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17.10 14 Dec 2017


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Updated: 20.40

At least four children have died after a school bus was split in two in a collision with a train in southern France.

The collision occurred at a level crossing near a wooded area in Millas - near the town of Perpignan - and left at least 19 people injured, seven seriously.

The bus was carrying 16 youngsters aged between 13 and 17 from a secondary school in Millas and was "shredded" by the collision, according to witnesses.

The front half of the vehicle was left on the track pointing at an upwards angle, with the body crushed towards the middle.

One of the train a passenger, named as Barbara, told local media the impact was "very powerful", adding that she thought the train was going to derail.

The train company - state-owned SNCF - tweeted a "heartfelt message of support to the victims and their families".

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Accident routier sur un passage à niveau à <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Millas?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Millas</a>.<br>SNCF adresse aux victimes et à leurs familles un sincère message de soutien.</p>&mdash; Groupe SNCF (@GroupeSNCF) <a href="https://twitter.com/GroupeSNCF/status/941342948591046657?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 14, 2017</a></blockquote>
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An SNCF spokesman added that the train was running at 80kph at the time of the accident and that there were 25 passengers on board, three of whom were "slightly injured".

The train was travelling west from Perpignan to the town of Villefranche de Conflent when it hit the back of the bus.

"It was a classic crossing, well equipped and lit," a SNCF spokesman said.

"Several witnesses confirmed that the barrier had come down, so it worked."

Seventy firefighters were called to the scene, alongside 10 ambulances, two air ambulances and two police helicopters.

A "crisis coordination unit" was also set up, according to a local official.

French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne described the collision as a "terrible accident" and said on Twitter that she was heading to the scene - around 530 miles from Paris and close to the Spanish border.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Très vive émotion suite au terrible accident survenu à <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Millas?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Millas</a> dans les Pyrénées-Orientales. Les secours et les services de l’Etat sont pleinement mobilisés. Je me rends sur place immédiatement.</p>&mdash; Elisabeth BORNE (@Elisabeth_Borne) <a href="https://twitter.com/Elisabeth_Borne/status/941344806495809536?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 14, 2017</a></blockquote>
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She was joined by France's Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe.

President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his condolences to "the victims of this terrible accident".

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Toutes mes pensées pour les victimes de ce terrible accident d’un bus scolaire et pour leurs familles. La mobilisation de l’État est totale pour leur porter secours.</p>&mdash; Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) <a href="https://twitter.com/EmmanuelMacron/status/941356065010208768?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 14, 2017</a></blockquote>
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All trains between Villefranche and Perpignan have been stopped and those seeking rail travel in the area have been warned of major delays.

The accident is the third involving several fatalities on French railways in the past four years.

In November 2015, a high-speed TGV train being tested between Paris and the northeastern city of Strasbourg derailed after hitting a bridge at 243kph, killing 11 people on board.

Seven people were killed in July 2013 when a commuter train crashed in a station south of Paris.

The accident was blamed on a signalling defect.


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