Train crash in Greece: the death toll is rising

TEMPE, Greece (AP) — Rescuers searched for survivors Wednesday in the wreckage of two damaged and burning trains that smashed into each other in northern Greece, killing at least 43 and smashing carriages into twisted steel knots in the country’s worst rail accident. registered.

The collision shortly before midnight on Tuesday sent some occupants hitting ceilings and windows.

“My head hit the roof of the carriage,” Stefanos Gogakos, who was in a rear car, told state broadcaster ERT. He said the windows were shattered, flooding the occupants with glass.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the collision of the passenger train and the freight train “a terrible train accident without precedent in our country”, and pledged a full and independent investigation.

He said it appeared the accident was “mainly due to tragic human error”.

The train from Athens to Thessaloniki was carrying 350 passengers, many of them students returning from wild carnival festivities.. While a double track, both trains were running in opposite directions on the same line near the Vale of Tempe, a river valley about 380 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens.

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The authorities arrested the station manager at the last train station in the city of Larissa. They did not reveal the name of the man or the reason for the arrest, but the stationmaster is responsible for rail traffic on this section of the track.

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he was stepping down “as an essential sign of respect for the memory of people who died unjustly.”

Karamanlis said he made “every effort” to improve the rail system, which was “in no condition befitting the 21st century”.

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But, he added, “when something so tragic happens, it’s impossible to carry on as if nothing had happened.”

wreckage makes rescue efforts difficult

On Wednesday, rescuers turned to cranes and other heavy machinery to begin moving large pieces of the train, uncovering more bodies and dismembered remains.

Larisa’s chief forensic pathologist, Rubini Leondari, said 43 bodies had been brought in so far for examination, and would require DNA identification because they were so mutilated.

“Most (the dead bodies) are young men,” she told ERT. “They are in very bad shape.”

Vassilis Polizos, a local resident who said he was one of the first people on the scene, said the two trains were “totally destroyed”.

“There were many large pieces of steel,” he said.

Rescuer Lazarus Sirianidis told ERT that crews were trying “very carefully” to separate steel, sheet metal and other materials that had been twisted together by the impact. “It will take a long time,” Sarianidis said.

Greece’s fire service said 57 people remained in hospital late Wednesday, including six in intensive care. More than 15 others have been discharged from hospital after receiving initial treatment.

More than 200 people who were unharmed or with minor injuries were taken by bus to Thessaloniki, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north. The police took their names when they arrived, in an effort to track down anyone who might be missing.

The head of the Hellenic Railway Workers’ Union, Yannis Nitsas, said eight railway employees were among those killed in the accident, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train.

Ambulance workers found several bodies dozens of meters away from the cars, ERT reported.

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Passengers say the train crash was like an explosion

An unnamed teenage survivor told reporters that he felt a sudden braking before the accident and saw sparks – then suddenly stopped.

“Our carriage did not derail, but the one in front got off and crashed,” he said, apparently shaken. He used a briefcase to break his fourth car window and escape.

Gugakos said the crash sounded like an explosion, and some smoke entered the carriage. Some passengers escaped through windows, he said, but after a few minutes, crew members were able to open the doors and let people out.

Multiple cars derailed and at least one caught fire.

“Temperatures have reached 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 Fahrenheit), which makes it even more difficult to identify the people in them,” said fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyannis.

A man was trying to ascertain the fate of his daughter who was on the train, saying he had a terrible phone conversation with her before cutting her off.

She told me: We are on fire. … My hair is burning,” he told ERT, without giving his name.

Greece moves from carnival to mourning

Many of the passengers were students returning to Thessaloniki from Carnival, officials said, but no detailed list of passengers was available. This year was the first time that the festival, which precedes Lent, has been celebrated in full since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The government declared three days of national mourning from Wednesday, while flags were flown at half-staff outside all European Commission buildings in Brussels.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis, visiting the scene, said the government should help the injured recover and identify the dead.

“I can guarantee one thing: we will find out the reasons for this tragedy and we will do everything we can so that nothing like this happens again,” said Mitsotakis.

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Tuesday’s accident was Greece’s worst train accident since 1968, when 34 people were killed in a crash in the southern Peloponnese region.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou cut short an official visit to Moldova to visit the site of the accident, and laid flowers next to the wreckage.

Pope Francis offered his condolences to the families of the dead, in a letter sent by the Vatican’s Secretary of State to the President of the Greek Bishops’ Conference on his behalf,

The letter stated that the pope “sends his prayers to all those affected by this tragedy.”

Condolences poured in from all over the world, including from neighboring Turkey, Greece’s historic regional rival. A statement issued by his office said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his sorrow and wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured.

Despite frosty relations between the two NATO countries, the Greek leadership called Erdogan last month in the wake of the massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey last month.

In Athens, several hundred members of left-wing groups held a rally on Wednesday night to protest the train deaths. Minor clashes broke out as some protesters threw rocks at the offices of the Hellenic Railways and riot police, and set rubbish bins on fire. There were no reports of arrests or injuries.

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Paphitis reported from Athens, Greece. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, and Patrick Quinn and David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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