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Officials said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but preliminary evidence suggests the fire broke out when a passenger attempted to light a gas stove.
The fire erupted as the train passed near the town of al-Ayatt at around 1 a.m. local time, an hour and a half after it left Cairo for the southern city of Aswan.
Fire fighters battled the blaze for several hours, extinguishing it only after it had destroyed seven train carriages. High winds hampered efforts to extinguish the flames.
Security officials said the dead were all believed to be Egyptians. According to witnesses, the train was jammed with thousands of people traveling to the countryside to spend the Eid al-Adha holiday — the biggest of the Muslim year — with their families.
People jumped from windows and doors in an attempt to escape flames and smoke that billowed from the train as it continued to travel for two and a half miles before stopping.
“We pushed each other and we were suffocating from the smoke. We threw each other out the windows,” one survivor told Reuters from his hospital bed.
Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid visited the site, saying his government “has mobilized all its efforts to help the families of the victims and alleviate their suffering.”
Egypt said it would provide financial compensation of $665 for families of those killed and $222 for those injured, the Associated Press reports. The government did not claim responsibility for the fire.
The train was an old, slow-moving model used mostly by poor Egyptians. It was also used to carry daily newspapers to villages along the River Nile.
The rail crash is Egypt’s deadliest in more than 150 years of rail history.
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