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8 Feb, 2014 11:57

Falling rock derails passenger train in French Alps, Russian tourist among dead

A train in the French Alps derailed on Saturday as a falling rock crashed into one of its cars, sending it over the edge of a mountain slope. Two people were killed, among them a Russian citizen, officials said.

Among the dead were a 49-year-old Russian woman and an 82-year-old French woman living in the Alps region, local prosecutor Stephane Kellenberger said, as cited by AFP. She added that 34 people had been on board the train.

The Russian tourist was traveling with her husband, who was also injured in the accident, the consul of Russia’s diplomatic mission in Marseilles, Daniil Boltaks, told ITAR-TASS by phone.

The husband’s injuries are not serious, though the man is in deep shock, Boltaks said, adding that the tourist is being treated in a hospital in Nice. The couple was traveling on their own, without a tour. The identities of the injured have not been confirmed. The Russian Embassy in France said the dead woman is from Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported.

There are conflicting reports on the number of those injured, varying from five to nine people. One person is reportedly seriously hurt.

French gendarmes stand near the wreckage of a passenger train near Digne-les-Bains in the French Alps after it derailed on February 8, 2014. (AFP Photo / Jean-Christophe Magnenet)

The two-carriage train, traveling from the coastal city of Nice, was en route to the town of Digne-les-Bains - the capital of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department - when the accident happened. The train is said to have derailed at around 11:00 a.m. local time between the communes (a level of administrative division in France) of Annet and Saint-Benoit.

"An enormous rock broke off from the mountain and hit the side of the train with extreme force," said Charbel Aboud, deputy prefect for the region, adding it may have weighed as much as 20 tonnes, Reuters reported.

"When the train passed, a landslide occurred on the rails and caused its derailment," said Jean-Yves Petit, vice president of the regional authority in charge of transport. The rock then fell thirty feet below, taking down trees in its path.

"It was as if the boulder fell from the sky, like in an earthquake," Jean-Jacques Messaoud, who was aboard the train when the accident happened, told France 24.

A total of 110 firefighters and 32 vehicles, as well as two helicopters, were immediately sent to the scene. Rescuers with trained dogs have searched the derailed cars to determine whether there are any more victims.

French Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier has expressed his condolences to the families of those killed, adding that the accident “could not have been prevented."

"It is too early to establish what were the factors, notably the weather conditions, that may have led to this boulder to break off," Cuvillier told reporters.

He added that an inspection of the railway section - popular with tourists - was held in mid-January and that the train has been operating since 2011. Cuvillier promptly arrived at the scene of the accident on Saturday afternoon. The president of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur, Michel Vauzelle, joined the condolences.

This is the second fatal train crash in France in the past six months. In July 2013 a passenger train traveling through Bretigny station south of Paris derailed, killing least six people.

A picture shows the passenger train hit by a massive falling boulder near Digne-les-Bains, in the French Alps on February 8, 2014. (AFP Photo / Jean-Christophe Magnenet)

Medics take care of an injured person at the hospital of Nice, southern France, after a train derailed near Digne-les-Bains in the French Alps on February 8, 2014. (AFP Photo / Valery Hache)

Gendarmes and rescuers mobilize for search and rescue operations by a train wreckage near Digne-les-Bains in the French Alps after a train derailed on February 8, 2014. (AFP Photo / Jean-Christophe Magnenet)

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