Portugal: tragedy in river Douro leaves 70 people at bottom of river. Kursk tragedy remembered by Portuguese president

The Portuguese President, Jorge Sampaio, remembered the Russian submarine disaster last summer when he mentioned the tragedy which beset the river Douro, in northern Portugal. A bridge collapsed on Sunday night, as a bus crowded with Portuguese tourists was crossing it. Four cars are also now believed to have followed the bus into the depths of the river. After a particularly rainy winter, the river Douro is swollen and is moving at such a speed that it is impossible for divers to work. Silt makes for poor visibility and the current is so strong that it is impossible for the diving teams to stabilise themselves. The first diver to go down today immediately signalled to be pulled up (after 50 seconds) because his mask was being pulled off by the current. He said he had been fighting to continue his work, but after descending only three metres, the conditions became impossible. President Sampaio stated that “We have our own type of Russian submarine tragedy here”, justifying the fact that now is not the time to make political comments because there are so many families mourning. This statement shows how deeply the Portuguese (a sea-faring nation) felt the grief of the Russian families who lost people on the Kursk. One Portuguese woman lost nine family members in this accident (brother and sister, parents, in-laws and nephews and nieces) and another lost three children and two grandchildren, a difference in numbers and intensity.. Responsibilities have been attributed by the world’s press to lack of maintenance but these situations are too serious for hasty and misjudged reactions. An enquiry is being made to examine the real reasons for this disaster. This enquiry will prove whether complaints which have been raised for the last two years were about the safety of the bridge or easier access to it – two completely different questions. Meanwhile, the real drama is for the families who at least want to conduct a funeral. The impossibility to reach the victims makes us all remember the Kursk and its occupants and their families and friends. It is strange how the two extremities of Europe are brought together in a common grief. On one hand, over a hundred Russian Navy submariners and on the other, at the western end of the continent, seventy or eighty Portuguese tourists who went to see the almond trees in flower. All are lost to the waters and it is the impossibility to recover the bodies which brings the greatest grief to the bereaved…there are no magic words in these situations, no secret formulas. All one can say is that the people of Portugal, in the words of the President, remember the grief felt by Russians in the Kursk tragedy…and now here we are all feeling the same way.


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