Death Toll Climbs to 55 After Truck Jammed With Estimated 200 Migrants Crashes in Mexico

Authorities in southern Mexico are recovering victims—dead or injured—from a trailer crash that so far has claimed the lives of 55 people.

The trailer crashed into a steel pedestrian bridge and tipped over on Friday, crushing the migrants onboard. It is considered one of the deadliest migrant events in Mexico's history. Although floods of walking migrants have been apprehended by Mexican authorities, the crash demonstrates how they have not been able to apprehend smugglers who charge migrants thousands of dollars in exchange for potential freedom.

"We have been insisting that the causes that originate these unfortunate events must be addressed," Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a news conference. He is urging U.S. President Joe Biden to speed up measures to curb immigration to prevent tragedies like this.

Guatemala's top human rights official, Jordán Rodas, estimated that the truck contained around 200 migrants from Central America, mainly Guatemala and Honduras. Twenty-one migrants were seriously injured and were taken to hospitals.

One migrant from Guatemala said that the truck felt like it was speeding and out of control moments before the crash. Other survivors told the press that the price of climbing aboard the truck was between $2,500 and $3,500. Smugglers would have taken them to the Mexican city of Puebla, where they would presumably meet another group to walk to the border.

Migrant Vigil
Three women light candles at the accident site on the Tuxtla-Chiapa de Corzo highway in the State of Chiapas, Mexico on December 10, 2021. Fifty-five migrants from at least five countries were killed on December 9, 2021, in Mexico after the truck they were hiding in hit a retaining wall and overturned in the southern state of Chiapas, a major transit point for those trying to reach the United States. Photo by Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

Volunteer rescuers removed the dead from the pile, while the living scrambled to get out of the twisted debris of the collapsed trailer.

One young man, pinned beneath unmoving bodies, wriggled to free the lower half of his frame, his face wrenched into a grimace as he extracted himself. Nearby, a man blinked, unable to move as he lay on the side of the road. Next to him was an older, stouter migrant whose lifeless eyes stared into the setting sun.

The most severely injured from the accident were carried to plastic sheets on the road. Those who could walk were led, stunned, to the same sheets. Ambulances, cars and pickup trucks were pressed into ferrying the injured to hospitals.

Later, the dead were covered in white sheets, side by side, on the highway.

Rescue workers who first arrived said other migrants who had been on the truck when it crashed had fled for fear of being detained by immigration agents. One paramedic said some of those who hurried into surrounding neighborhoods were bloodied or bruised but still limped away in their desperation to escape.

Marco Antonio Sánchez, director of the Chiapas Firefighter Institute, said ambulances brought victims to three hospitals, three or four at a time. When there weren't enough ambulances, they loaded them into pickup trucks, he said.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei tweeted: "I deeply regret the tragedy in Chiapas state, and I express my solidarity for the victims' families, to whom we will offer all the necessary consular assistance, including repatriation."

Pope Francis, who visited Chiapas in 2015 and has made the plight of migrants a hallmark of his papacy, sent a telegram of condolences Friday to the archbishop of Tuxtla Gutierrez, offering prayers for the dead and their families, and for the injured.

The truck had originally been a closed freight module of the kind used to carry perishable goods. The container was smashed open by the impact. It was unclear if the driver survived.

In recent months, Mexican authorities have tried to block migrants from walking in large groups toward the U.S. border, but the clandestine and illicit flow has continued.

In October, in one of the largest busts in recent memory, authorities in the northern border state of Tamaulipas found 652 mainly Central American migrants jammed into a convoy of six cargo trucks heading toward the U.S. border.

Irineo Mujica, an activist who is leading about 400 migrants on a nearly 1 1/2-month march across southern Mexico, blamed Thursday's tragedy on Mexico cracking down on migrant caravans.

Mujica and his group had almost reached the outskirts of Mexico City, after weeks of dealing with National Guard officers who tried to block the march. Mujica said the group would stop and offer prayers for the dead migrants.

"These policies that kill us, that murder us, is what leads to this type of tragedy," Mujica said.

In fact, they are two very different groups. Caravans generally attract migrants who don't have the thousands of dollars needed to pay smugglers.

Migrants involved in serious accidents are often allowed to stay in Mexico at least temporarily because they are considered witnesses to and victims of a crime, and Mexico's National Immigration Institute said it would offer humanitarian visas to the survivors.

The agency also said the Mexican government would help identify the dead and cover funeral costs or repatriation of the remains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.