City of pilgrims pays tribute to train crash victims
Heartbreaking scenes at cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
People watch the funeral mas for the victims of the July 24th train crash on a screen outside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, yesterday. Photograph: Miguel Vidal/Reuters
The scene was as moving as it was rare: a distraught middle-aged woman clutched Spain’s Prince Felipe in the nave of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, gripping him tighter as her body convulsed in grief, her tears spilling on to the sleeve of his black suit jacket.
The 12th-century cathedral, in the city that for hundreds of years has been the final destination of pilgrims, last night was the scene of an emotional demonstration of solidarity for the families of 79 people who never made it there, their journeys and lives truncated by a train crash just 4km away.
Black ribbons of mourning dotted the city as a concelebrated Mass, described locally as a funeral for the victims, took place in the cathedral, led by the archbishop of Santiago, Julián Barrio. “It is not easy to understand and accept this reality, but we must not let our pain go to waste,” the archbishop said in his homily. “Everything in our lives has meaning. We are not a cry in the dark.” He urged families to leave their destinies in the hands of God, “with pain but in peace, with tears but in hope”.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from the city, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the head of the Galician government, and the prince and other members of the royal family attended, along with many relatives of the dead and emergency workers who had assisted at the scene
Several hundred watched the ceremony on a big screen in the Quintana square behind the cathedral, where concerts had been planned as part of the annual feast of Santiago festival but were cancelled when a week of mourning was declared.
After the Mass, the royals and politicians spent at least an hour shaking hands and hugging individually everyone present who had been affected by the crash. There were heartbreaking scenes as family members, many still in shock, accepted their condolences.
Following days of repeated broadcasts showing the Madrid-to-Ferrol train as it rounded the sharp A Grandeira bend before crashing, and of bloodied victims staggering away from the crash scene, here was the city offering new, more positive images to mark its respect, in a gesture officials hoped would prove cathartic and comforting.
It is a tragedy that has affected not just Galicia but the entire country, with funerals taking place over the past few days from A Coruña in the north to Cádiz in the south.
Alongside the stories of heartbreak and loss are accounts of neighbours who became heroes, of individuals who thought nothing of putting their lives at risk to smash the windows of the train and search for victims during the wait for emergency services, of communities who organised transport to the nearest clinics in order to donate blood.
Abel Rivas, a welder who lives near the crash site in Angrois, beside Santiago de Compostela, could be seen in many live TV reports carrying a young girl in his arms away from the scene, reassuring survivors as they lay near the site of carnage, and helping to transport the injured on stretchers.
The 29-year-old waves away suggestions of heroism, telling the local daily, La Voz de Galicia, that “I would have done whatever was needed.”
After enduring the harrowing task of identifying relatives among the dead, the affected families then faced the heartbreak of identifying and retrieving the luggage of their loved ones.
Such loved ones include two-year-old Daniela Recio, the youngest victim of the crash, and her mother, Lidia Martín (35). They had been travelling home to Galicia with Lidia’s husband Rafael and 11-year-old son, Iago, after spending a few days at Rafael’s family home in Caratagena in Murcia.
What was salvaged of the little girl’s remains could be identified only through DNA testing. Rafael and Iago survived.
It was to be the final journey also of 84-year-old retired nurse Elia Esther Gómez González and her 92-year-old husband, Víctor María de Sola Alcoba, who had been travelling to Lugo in Galicia for a family gathering.
The death toll rose to 79 on Sunday when Texas-based 59-year-old Puerto Rican mother-of-three Myrta Fariza died of her injuries in hospital. She and her husband had been travelling around Europe after attending the wedding of their daughter in Rome.
Seventy passengers are still in hospital, 20 of them in critical condition.
The driver of the train, 52-year-old Francisco Garzón, who faces charges including reckless homicide, was freed on bail on Sunday night.
Local media report that he acknowledged to an investigating judge that the train was travelling too fast and that he briefly stopped paying attention.