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Train hits Egyptian schoolbus, at least 49 dead

Last Updated 10:54 a.m. ET

ASSIUT, Egypt A speeding train crashed into a bus carrying children to their kindergarten in southern Egypt on Saturday, killing at least 49 kindergartners, officials said. Distraught families searched for signs of their loved ones along the tracks and angry villagers berated officials in the aftermath of the latest disaster to hit the country's railway system.

The bus was carrying more than 50 children between 4 and 6 years old when it was hit near al-Mandara village in Manfaloot district in the province of Assiut, a security official said, adding that it appears that the railroad crossing was not closed as the train sped toward it.

Accidents traced to negligence regularly left scores dead during the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, who was accused of valuing loyalty over competence in many appointments of senior officials. This is the worst such tragedy since the country's first freely-elected president, Mohammed Morsi, took power this summer.

Books, school bags and children's socks were strewn along the tracks near the mangled bus. Parents of the missing wailed as they looked for signs of their children. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said many of the remains were unrecognizable.

A woman who called herself Um Ibrahim, a mother of three, was pulling her hair in distress. "My children! I didn't feed you before you left," she wailed. One witness said the train pushed the bus along the tracks for nearly a half-mile.

As one man picked up a body part he screamed: "Only God can help!"

Egyptians inspect wreckage after a speeding train crashed into a bus carrying children to their kindergarten in southern Egypt on Saturday, killing at least 47, officials said, near Assiut, in southern Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. AP Photo/Mamdouh Thabet

Two hospital officials said between seven and 11 wounded were being treated in two different facilities, many with severed limbs.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Crowds shouted and jeered at Prime Minister Hesham Kandil upon his arrival at Assiut's main hospital, where wounded were being treated.

Egyptian security officials said grieving families cut off roads, denying the prime minister access to the scene of the accident. An AP reporter said protesters used burning logs and cinder blocks to set up roadblocks, firing automatic rifles into the air and denouncing Kandil, President Mohammed Morsi, and the provincial governor.

The interior minister however was able to reach the site, staying about 10 minutes before leaving under shouts and jeers from the crowd.

Residents of the province are known to be heavily armed, and many hold tribal alliances.

Egypt's railway system has a poor safety record, mostly blamed on badly maintained equipment and poor management. The railway's worst disaster took place in February 2002 when a train heading to southern Egypt caught fire, killing 363 people. Media reports quoted official statistics saying that the rail and road accidents claimed more than 7,000 lives in 2010.

The state news agency MENA reported that Transport Minister Mohammed el-Meteeni offered his resignation to President Mohammed Morsi. The agency said Morsi ordered an investigation into the accident and said that those responsible would be held accountable, and that Prime Minister Hesham Kandil and the interior minister were headed to the scene of the accident.

At al-Mandara village, along the tracks, angry families and locals gathered around the scene of the traffic, shouting at officials. Some chanted: "Down with Morsi!"

Sheik Mohammed Hassan, a villager, said the government should be paying more attention to its domestic problems instead of focusing its attention to the violence in neighboring Gaza.

"The blood of people in Assiut is more important than Gaza," he said.

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