Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spanish Train Crash Turns Celebratory Holidays into Period of Mourning

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Spanish Train Crash Turns Celebratory Holidays into Period of Mourning

Article excerpt

A scorching sun was starting to settle at 8:41 p.m. on July 24 in Santiago de Compostela, on the eve of the city's busiest and most festive weeks of the year. Throngs of residents and visitors had filled the city's main plaza to count down the traditional Burning of the Cathedral, a fireworks and light display that brings the heart of the Spanish pilgrim city to life.

But at that moment, for reasons still to be determined, Santiago and the region of Galicia suffered a shocking blow. A packed high- speed passenger train only minutes away from the main city rail station derailed, killing 78 people and injuring scores. At least 32 remain in critical condition.

"Tragedies impose character on its people. July 24 will no longer be the eve of a celebration, but the commemoration of one of our saddest days. We will be forever sadder," said Galicia regional government leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo on Thursday.

July 25 is the day of Apostle Santiago, or the Feast of St. James. It's also the National Galicia Day, a day to celebrate the region's patriotism and unique culture. Coupled with the beginning of the August vacation period in Spain, it's time when the city sees the number of pilgrims and tourists visiting the city and its surroundings swell for three weeks on back-to-back festivals that intertwine devotion, parties, and leisure.

"Today, on Galicia Day, we suffer together. Rest in peace," Mr. Feijoo said. Thanking those around the world who sent messages of solidarity, he added that "any word is insufficient for an emotion that can only be described with tears."

Wednesday's light show was canceled almost immediately, and the raucousness of a city geared for weeks of celebration was replaced with sirens and solemn silence and respect. On Thursday, Galicia declared seven days of mourning while Spain declared three. Dozens of concerts, sporting events, cultural activities, art exhibits, parties, and patriotic marches were canceled or postponed. …

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