One of the worst disasters to affect migrants in Mexico in recent memory took place as the vehicle travelled north from Comitán, a town close to the Mexico-Guatemala border with almost 200 people crammed into its container.
Shocking video footage of the crash site near Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Chiapas state, showed forensic officers surveying a road scattered with lifeless bodies as survivors found themselves in confusion and despair.
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A reporter from Mexico’s El Universal newspaper, describing how injured parents could be heard trying to calm their panicked children, wrote: “It was a scene of chaos."
“Tragedy," the Mexican newspaper La Jornada wrote, placing a photograph of the wreckage on its front page under a single-word headline.
“It was horrible to hear the wailing. I just thought about helping,” Sabina López, a witness told Agence France-Presse (AFP) as she saw dozens of people screaming in pain, some trapped in the debris and others who were unconscious
Isaías Díaz, who arrived at the crash site about 15 minutes after it happened and helped paramedics treat victims, said: “The crying, the pain, the despair. It was a terrible scene.”
“I saw five, six children who were clearly injured. People with broken legs, ribs, [injured] heads, cuts on their necks,” Díaz told AFP.
Mexican media reported that the victims were citizens of Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras. Of the 105 wounded people, 83 were male and 22 female, and many were children.
Some reports suggested the truck driver lost control of the vehicle while coming out of a curve at high speed – possibly given how heavy his illegal cargo was – and smashed into a foot bridge. Other reports claim the lorry’s brakes had failed. Survivors said to local media the driver fled after the crash.
Both Mexican and U.S. authorities voiced sorrow over the accident, which came amid a Covid-drive surge in migration through Mexico towards the U.S. southern border. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico's president, tweeted: “This is so painful.”
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, tweeted he was saddened by the “tragic loss of life and injuries," stating that “human smugglers disregard human life for their own profit. Please don’t risk your lives to migrate irregularly."
The economic recession from the coronavirus pandemic has turbocharged the exodus of people from Latin America to the U.S., with border agents reporting 1.7m detentions between October 2020 and September this year, the highest number since the 1960s.
The majority of those crossing the border still come from Mexican and the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, yet a growing number of migrants and refugees have also been arriving from other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela.