A letter from the Chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, Bishop Simon Chiwanga
Greetings, friends around the world:
Most of you have doubtless heard about the terrible train accident that happened yesterday, Monday, near Dodoma, and perhaps you have been wondering how we have been affected here in the Diocese of Mpwapwa.
The accident happened here, within the boundaries of the diocese, a few kilometres west of the village of Msagali. A passenger train, en route from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma and points north and west, stopped on an incline, blocked on the single track behind a broken-down train. The brakes of the train failed; the whole train began rolling backwards; and the engine, which had been switched off while waiting, could not be restarted. The passenger train continued to roll backward in an uncontrolled fashion until colliding at high speed into the back of a freight train, travelling in the same direction, that is, toward Dar es Salaam.
Perhaps one thousand people were riding the train at the time of the accident. As word spread, busses, lorries, and private cars were organised to bring the injured to three area hospitals, but by far the greatest number came to the closest one, our own Mpwapwa District Hospital, which has 167 beds. The most recent death toll we have heard is that 158 bodies have been taken to Dodoma for identification, but that number is sure to increase.
As of Tuesday morning, 243 people had been treated at Mpwapwa Hospital. Only six people died after arriving at the hospital. Ten people had major surgery last night and today, of whom nine survived. Medical treatment of the wounded continues with help from staff from Dodoma and Morogoro Regional Hospitals, Muhimbili Government Hospital in Dar es Salaam, and from the Diocesan St Luke’s Clinic. In addition, Professor Philemon Sarungi, who is both a highly qualified surgeon and the country’s Minister of Defence, came from Dodoma, where he was attending Parliament sessions. Visitors, journalists, and panicked relatives have been prohibited from the overcrowded wards while the injured are prioritised and treated. Canon Magawa, the Anglican chaplain at the hospital, Bishop Chiwanga and other clergy made provided pastoral care to both the accident victims and to the hard-working medical team, including visiting the accident scene. A list of the Mpwapwa patients has been transmitted to Dodoma to assist relatives, otherwise waiting at the makeshift morgue in a sports stadium. Most poignantly, there are four children at Mpwapwa Hospital whose identities and home places are completely unknown.
Anglicans in Mpwapwa spent a very busy 24 hours after the accident. The small restaurant operated by the Mother’s Union, called Umaki Mgahawa, cooked meals for the doctors and other medical staff who were working around the clock, and also brought cooked maize porridge to the hospital to feed patients. Dr Rachel Tarling, a Crosslinks missionary from England, plus the other doctor and three nurses from St Luke’s Clinic, worked triage in the afternoon.
On Tuesday things had calmed considerably, and attention is turning to helping people cope with the tragedy. The government announced Tuesday and Wednesday as official days of mourning; flags were flying at half-staff. President Benjamin William Mkapa and other national leaders visited the Mpwapwa Hospital and the scene of the accident at Msagali. Here in Mpwapwa we are planning an ecumenical service to commemorate those who died and there will doubtless be one in Dodoma as well.
Please continue to pray for us in Tanzania, especially for the bereaved, the injured, the orphaned, and the stranded from this terrible collision.
+Simon E Chiwanga