Upon arriving at the scene of a highway accident in southern Mexico, rescue workers discovered a horrific scene of death and injury after a freight truck crammed with as many as 200 migrants tipped over and crashed into the base of a steel pedestrian bridge.
The migrants crammed into the cargo trailer were flipped, tossed, and crushed into a heap that contained both the living and the dead, according to witnesses.
By late Thursday, the death toll had risen to 53, with authorities estimating that at least 54 people had been injured as well. It was one of the deadliest single-day tolls for migrants in Mexico since the 2010 massacre of 72 migrants by the Zetas drug cartel in the northern state of Tamaulipas, which was the country’s deadliest single-day death toll.
In the meantime, some migrants scrambled and limped to free themselves from the twisted steel sheets of the collapsed container, which was being hauled off the pile by volunteer rescuers using their arms and legs as slings.
Unable to move his lower half of his body due to the weight of the dead piling up on top of him, one young man wriggled to free himself from the weight of the dead piling up on top of him, his face wrenched into the grimace of life attempting to free itself from the grasp of death.
A man sat on the shoulder of the road, unable to move, and blinked his eyes at the passing traffic. One of his fellow migrants stood next to him, stouter and older. His eyes no longer required shading; they stared, startled and lifeless, unblinking into the fading sunlight with unblinking eyes.
While the Mexican government has attempted to pacify the U.S. by halting caravans of walking migrants and allowing the reinstatement of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, the government has been unable to stop the flood of migrants being crammed hundreds at a time into freight trucks operated by smugglers who charge thousands of dollars for transporting them to the U.S. border — journeys that all too often end in death.
The most severely injured, many of whom were dripping with blood, were hoisted by their arms and legs to plastic sheets laid out on the side of the highway. The walking wounded were led to the same sheets as the rest of the patients, who were stunned and unconvinced. The injured were transported to hospitals using ambulances, cars, and pickup trucks that were coerced into service.
Later, the dead were laid out in rows of white sheets, side by side, on the side of the highway where they were found.
More migrants were aboard the truck when it crashed, according to the first responders who arrived on the scene, and they fled for fear of being detained by immigration agents. An emergency medical technician described how people who fled into nearby neighborhoods were bloodied or bruised, but they continued to limp away in their desperation to get away.
According to Guatemala’s top human rights official, Jordán Rodas, approximately 200 migrants may have been crammed into the truck. While shocking, that number is not uncommon for migrant smuggling operations in Mexico, and the sheer weight of the load — combined with the truck’s speed and a nearby curve — may have been enough to throw the truck off balance, according to authorities. The truck was traveling at a high rate of speed and around a sharp curve, which may have contributed to the accident.
According to Luis Manuel Moreno, director of the state civil defense office in Chiapas, approximately 21 of the injured sustained serious injuries and were transported to local hospitals. Three people were critically injured in the crash, according to the federal Attorney General’s Office, which occurred on a highway leading from the Guatemalan border to the state capital of Chiapas.
Sitting on the pavement beside the overturned trailer, survivor Celso Pacheco of Guatemala said the truck felt like it was speeding and then seemed to lose control under the weight of the migrants inside.
The migrants on board, according to Pacheco, were mostly from Guatemala and Honduras, and there were eight to ten young children, according to him. He claimed that he was attempting to enter the United States, but that he now expected to be deported to Guatemala instead.
Chiapas Firefighters Institute director Marco Antonio Sánchez said ambulances rushed victims from their homes to three hospitals where they were treated, with each ambulance transporting three to four injured. When there weren’t enough ambulances they loaded them into pickup trucks, he said.
According to a statement on Twitter by Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, “I am deeply saddened by the tragedy that has occurred in Chiapas state, and I express my solidarity with the victims’ families, to whom we will provide all necessary consular assistance, including repatriation.”
The truck had originally been a closed freight module of the kind used to transport perishable goods. Because of the force of the impact, the container was smashed open. It was not immediately clear whether the driver had survived.
In interviews with survivors, it was revealed that the migrants described boarding the truck in Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, and paying anywhere between $2,500 and $3,500 in exchange for transportation to the central Mexican state of Puebla. Once there, they would almost certainly have formed a partnership with another group of migrant smugglers to transport them to the United States border.
Mexican authorities have attempted to prevent migrants from walking in large groups toward the United States border in recent months, but the clandestine and illegal flow of migrant smuggling has continued.
In October, authorities in the northern border state of Tamaulipas discovered 652 migrants, mostly from Central America, crammed into a convoy of six cargo trucks on their way to the United States border. It was one of the largest busts in recent memory, according to authorities.
In a statement, Irineo Mujica, an activist who is leading a march of approximately 400 migrants who have been walking for nearly 1 1/2 months across southern Mexico, blamed Thursday’s disaster on the Mexican government’s crackdown on migrant caravans.
Mujica and his supporters were on the verge of reaching the outskirts of Mexico City after weeks of battling National Guard officers who attempted to obstruct their progress. Mujica stated that the group would come to a halt and pray for the deceased migrants.
“It is these policies that kill us, that murder us, that are the cause of this type of tragedy,” Mujica explained.
In reality, they are two completely different organizations. The migrants who flock to caravans are typically those who do not have the thousands of dollars required to pay migrant smugglers.
As witnesses and victims of crime, migrant workers involved in serious accidents are frequently allowed to remain in Mexico for an extended period of time. Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has announced that it will issue humanitarian visas to the survivors of the accident.
The Mexican government, according to the news agency, will assist in the identification of the deceased and will cover funeral expenses or the repatriation of their remains.
Mass migrant deaths are something that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been adamant about avoiding, even as his administration has agreed to requests from the United States government to halt the flow of migrants heading north.
“It’s extremely painful,” he wrote on his Twitter account in response to the accident.