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South Africa cargo train crash kills at least 24

JOHANNESBURG -- A cargo train loaded with coal collided with a truck carrying farm workers at a crossing in eastern South Africa Friday, killing at least 24 people and leaving bodies strewn across the scene of the accident, officials said.

“The accident was messy,” said government spokesman Thulani Sibuyi describing heads and limbs severed from bodies.

At least 25 people were injured in the accident in Mpumalanga, an eastern province in South Africa. “Probably even more,” cautioned spokesman Joseph Mabuza of the province's community safety department, saying authorities were still struggling to count all the injured.

Eleven of the victims died on the spot, two on the way to hospitals and the others perished in different health facilities, he added.

The final death toll, however, might still rise, officials cautioned.

“You have scattered bodies. It is difficult to count or to come up with a conclusive number,” Mabuza said earlier Friday.

The owner of the truck is currently being questioned by the police, Sibuyi said. It appears likely that he crossed the tracks and misjudged the distance to the arriving train, added Mabuza.

Traffic accidents with high death tolls are common in South Africa, and often are blamed on negligent drivers and badly maintained roads.

In 2010, a man driving 14 children to school evaded barriers at a crossing near Cape Town and a train crashed into it, killing 10 of his young passengers. The driver was convicted of murder in the deaths of the students and attempted murder in the case of the four surviving children. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Transportation officials hailed the tough charges and sentence, saying that could help deter reckless driving.

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