VIDEO

Firefighter recalls Spain train crash 'war zone'

In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. A firefighter who was one of the first at the scene of last week's deadly train crash in Spain says he wil
In this photo taken on Wednesday July 24 2013, Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. A firefighter who was one of the first at the scene of last week's deadly train crash in Spain says he will never forget the silence he found at the site, which he said resembled a "war zone". -- FILE PHOTO: AP

NOIA, Spain (AFP) - A firefighter who was one of the first at the scene of last week's deadly train crash in Spain says he will never forget the silence he found at the site, which he said resembled a "war zone".

Francisco Javier Lorenzo de Agrafojo, 48, said he and two other firefighters from Noia on Spain's north-western coast did not wait for orders before rushing to the scene of Wednesday's accident.

They hurried to Santiago de Compostela some 40km away as soon as they heard reports of the disaster on the radio.

"When I arrived and saw the whole scene, I sensed that crash happened with the train going very fast. It looked like a war zone," he said, standing in front of the Noia fire station.

The death toll rose to 79 on Sunday after a US woman died in hospital.

The driver was charged late on Sunday with 79 counts of reckless homicide and released on bail under court supervision.

He reportedly told railway officials after the accident that the train had taken a curve at 190kmh - more than double the 80 kph speed limit for that section of track.

"If you know anything about physics, you know that at 190kmh, if that was the speed of the train as has been said, the human body can't withstand the impact," De Agrafojo said.

Emergency services workers checked each carriage of the train to search for survivors, a task that lasted around two hours, he said.

After midnight De Agrafojo and seven other firefighters had the grim task of gathering the bodies of the dead.

"Our work is like that, but what made it hard was the magnitude," he said.

"We started with 13, 14, 15 bodies. But when they are 20, 30, 40, 57... it overwhelms you, you say 'My God, this is huge!' You can't assimilate it. It was a never-ending night." But what especially struck him was how quiet the scene was, despite the dozens of rescuers working at the site.

"Everybody worked in silence because they were living the pain," De Agrafojo said in a soft voice.

At dawn after nearly 10 hours of hard work, he and his companions returned to Noia at 7am and slept "a little and badly" before starting a new shift at 10pm.

Lorenzo de Agrafojo became a firefighter at the age of 24 after spending three years in the army.

The man hailed as "Noia's hero" in his home town smiles shyly and says only that he feels "satisfaction" at having done his duty.

He said he hoped the accident would lead authorities to rethink cuts to emergency services, especially in small towns like Noia - population 15,000 - under government efforts to reduce Spain's public deficit.

"Before we were 15 firefighters, now there are four of us. Let's see if because of (the accident) we can change this situation," he said.

For Lorenzo de Agrafojo, the hardest part now will be to get over the experience and resume his normal routine after the night at the crash site, which he said caused his wife and 25-year-old son "a lot of anxiety".

"Last night I dreamed and cried," he said. "Nobody is prepared for this - not doctors, not paramedics, not firefighters."