VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico — A notorious cargo train known as ‘‘the Beast’’ and carrying at least 250 Central American hitchhiking migrants derailed in a remote region of southern Mexico on Sunday, killing at least five people and injuring 18, authorities said.
The train company and rescue workers were bringing in two cranes to help search for more victims among the eight derailed cars, officials said. Thousands of migrants ride the roofs of the train cars on their way north each year, braving brutal conditions for a chance at crossing into the United States.
Late Sunday, federal authorities had lowered the death toll to three, but said minutes later that two more had died, and put the toll back at the five announced earlier by Tabasco state officials. It said 18 others were injured, two of them near death.
The Tabasco state government said at least 250 Honduran migrants were on the train heading north from the Guatemala border. Heavy rains had loosened the earth beneath the tracks and shifted the rails, officials said.
President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras set up a call center for families to learn information about their loved ones.
The head of civil protection for Mexico’s Interior Department, Luis Felipe Puente, released a list of 17 Hondurans ranging in ages from 19 to 54 who were taken to two regional hospitals. Six of them were in serious condition, according to the list he published on his official Twitter account.
The locomotive and first car did not derail and were used to move victims to the nearest hospital, in the neighboring state of Veracruz. Tabasco state Civil Protection chief Cesar Burelo Burelo said the accident happened at 3 a.m. in a marshy area surrounded by lakes and forest that is out of cellphone range.
The Red Cross said dozens of emergency workers rushed to the area, which ambulances couldn’t reach. Officials were trying to establish air or water links to the scene.
Mario Bustillos Borge, the Red Cross chief in Tabasco, described the rescue as a complex situation that was making it difficult to get rapid confirmation of the exact number of dead and injured. ‘‘There are some very high estimates, and others that are more conservative,’’ he told a local radio station.
While the number of Mexicans heading to the United States has dropped dramatically, there has been a surge of Central Americans making the 1,000-mile northbound journey, fueled in large part by the rising violence brought to their homelands by the spread of Mexican drug cartels.
Other factors, experts say, are an easing in migration enforcement by Mexican authorities and a false perception that Mexican criminal gangs are not preying on migrants as much as they had been.