Spain train crash: Villagers of Angrois, heroes of train disaster

Rescuers tend to victims next to derailed cars at the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals
Rescuers tend to victims next to derailed cars at the site of a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- PHOTO: AFP
Rescue workers help a victim of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on
Rescue workers help a victim of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Emergency personnel take a break while working at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on July 25, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angr
Emergency personnel take a break while working at the site of a train accident in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on July 25, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
Two men comforting an injured woman next to a derailed car following a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wedne
Two men comforting an injured woman next to a derailed car following a train accident near the city of Santiago de Compostela on July 24, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Onlookers view the wreckage of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 25, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on t
Onlookers view the wreckage of a train crash near Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 25, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A burned out train carriage is taken away on a flat-bed truck in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on
A burned out train carriage is taken away on a flat-bed truck in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
A man looks the train engine at the site of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a
A man looks the train engine at the site of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Candles are seen on July 26, 2013, at the site of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet
Candles are seen on July 26, 2013, at the site of a train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
The medical staff of the University Clinical Hospital hold five minutes of silence on July 26, 2013, to pay tribute to the victims of a train crash at the Obradoiro Square in Santiago de Compostela. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck
The medical staff of the University Clinical Hospital hold five minutes of silence on July 26, 2013, to pay tribute to the victims of a train crash at the Obradoiro Square in Santiago de Compostela. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe (centre) greets first responders who took part in the rescue operations following the July 24 train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struc
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe (centre) greets first responders who took part in the rescue operations following the July 24 train crash in Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe (right) and Princess Letizia (centre) talk to children in Angrois, near Santiago de Compostela, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, l
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe (right) and Princess Letizia (centre) talk to children in Angrois, near Santiago de Compostela, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- PHOTO: AFP
A child cycles past flowers placed in memory of the victims of Wednesday's train crash, in front of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below
A child cycles past flowers placed in memory of the victims of Wednesday's train crash, in front of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain, on July 26, 2013. After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on July 24, locals in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, say it will never be the same. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ANGROIS, Spain (AFP) - Broken train seats and scrap metal litter the square in Angrois, a hamlet on the outskirts of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela.

After the deadly high-speed train crash that struck on the rails below the nearby embankment on Wednesday, locals say it will never be the same.

"There were benches over there, under the wreckage. That's where we used to sit every evening," says Mr Ramiro Louzao, 60, pointing from behind a police cordon.

Before him lie mangled pieces of the train that hurtled off the tracks at high speed on Wednesday night and crashed with a thunderous bang, killing 78 people and leaving 178 injured.

One of the carriages leaped off the track, destroying part of the square above, witnesses say.

"I wasn't feeling very well that evening and it was bad weather. If it had been fine, we would have all been here," says Mr Ramiro. "We are in shock. Even though no one from this village is dead, other people are."

Beside him, Mr Manuel Puga, a former construction worker of 64, gazes at the ruins of a concrete stage that he says was destroyed by the impact of train.

"That's where they used to hold concerts for the village fete at the start of July," he says.

In the village whose narrow lanes run down to barriers overlooking a bend in the track, residents were used to going about their daily lives under the rumble of trains.

But the din of Wednesday's crash startled them and brought them running out, smashing the train windows to pull passengers from the wreckage and forming lines to pass water and blankets to the wounded.

"It was the locals who provided the first assistance," the regional police chief Jaime Iglesias said on Thursday.

Mr Puga recalls: "We put wooden planks down to lay the dead on, so they weren't just resting straight on the rails."

Their role in the rescue was hailed by media worldwide and drew the attention of Prince Felipe, the heir to the Spanish throne, and his wife Letizia, who visited Angrois on Friday evening.

The residents in the streets of Angrois responded modestly to the attention.

"It was normal that we should help," says Mr Puga.

In the quiet following the accident, a light breeze stirs the leaves in the gardens of the village's stone houses.

Few residents are out in the lanes, occupied mostly by curious onlookers who have come from around the area to stare at the wreck of the other train carriages still waiting to be heaved away from the tracks.

"I'm just now starting to feel the shock. Yesterday, I hadn't really taken it in," says Ms Pilar Ramos, 61, who runs the bar Las Rozas - the village's social hub, right next to a police cordon now roping off the accident site.

On Friday she is busier than usual, serving the police and journalists who have flocked to Angrois, at the counter under old photographs of the Santiago football team.

But work cannot make her forget the horrors of the crash.

"I want to cry," she says. "It was horrible to see children and people on the tracks. We pulled a little boy out through a window. It breaks your heart," she adds.

"It's incredible for that to happen in such a little village. I've lived here all my life, right near the tracks. It's something I'll never forget."

Despite their trauma, villagers say they are not afraid of high-speed trains like the one that crashed.

Regular trains started running again on the nearby tracks from Thursday, sounding their horns as they took the bend slowly.

"I don't mind that," says another resident, Pilar, a woman of 90 dressed all in black and walking with a cane. "On the contrary, I like seeing them go by."