Firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometers north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, March 1, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
LARISSA, Greece – A passenger train and a cargo train collided head-on in Greece on Tuesday night, killing at least 36 people and injuring 85 as the country's deadliest rail crash in decades threw entire carriages off the tracks.
A fire brigade official said the death toll was expected to rise. Sixty-six of those injured were hospitalized, six of whom in intensive care, the official said.
Our priority now is treating the injured, searching and finding missing people in the debris and offering psychological support to the relatives of the victims by psychologists who are heading to the Larissa city.
Giannis Oikonomou, Government spokesman
The crash occurred as the passenger train emerged from a tunnel. Derailed carriages, badly damaged with broken windows and thick plumes of smoke, could be seen on the site.
One passenger carriage stood on its side at almost 90 degrees from the rest of the wrecked train, with other derailed carriages tilting precariously.
"There was panic … the fire was immediate, as we were turning over we were being burned, fire was right and left," said Stergios Minenis, a 28-year-old passenger who jumped to safety from the wreckage.
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A passenger who escaped from the fifth carriage told Skai TV: "Windows were being smashed and people were screaming … One of the windows caved in from the impact of iron from the other train."
The train carried around 350 passengers.
Many were evacuated to Thessaloniki, where one woman ran to embrace her daughter as she disembarked from a bus with other survivors.
"Mum don't, I'm hurt," the daughter said. Another woman, who was waiting there, said her child was not picking up the phone.
The head of emergency unit in Larissa hospital Apostolos Komnos said most of the dead were young people, in their 20s.
A crane, firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision in Tempe near Larissa city, Greece, March 1, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
Many of the passengers would have been returning home after a long holiday weekend marking the beginning of Greek Orthodox lent. Thessaloniki has a large student population.
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The government declared three days of national mourning, from Wednesday to Friday, with flags flying at half-mast in a tribute to the victims of the crash.
"Our priority now is treating the injured, searching and finding missing people in the debris and offering psychological support to the relatives of the victims," government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said.
One of the questions investigators need to answer is why the two trains were, according to Thessaly regional governor Konstantinos Agorastos, running on the same track when they crashed into each other.
Smoke rises from trains as firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision near Larissa city, Greece, March 1, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)
Police temporarily detained the station master in Larissa and at least three witnesses have been questioned, including a representative for Hellenic Train, a police official said.
Greece's aging railway system is in need of modernizing, with many trains traveling on single tracks and signaling and automatic control systems still to be installed in many areas
Greece's aging railway system is in need of modernizing, with many trains traveling on single tracks and signaling and automatic control systems still to be installed in many areas.
Hellenic Train in a statement expressed "its deep sorrow for the tragic accident."
In the morning, cranes were lifting derailed carriages, as rescuers scoured through the wreckage.
Overnight, rescue workers had been carrying torches in carriages looking for trapped passengers.
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Fire brigade spokesperson Vassilis Varthakogiannis said the evacuation of passengers took place in very "difficult conditions given the severity of the collision of the two trains."
"We are living through a tragedy. We are pulling out people alive, injured…there are dead," he said.
The cargo train had been traveling from Thessaloniki to Larissa. Local media said the train left Athens around 7:30 pm (0530 GMT). The fire brigade said it was informed of the accident shortly before midnight.
Greece sold railway operator TRAINOSE to Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in 2017 as part of its international bailout programme, expecting hundreds of millions of euros to be invested in rail infrastructure in the coming years.
According to the Italian company's website, it is the main provider of rail transport for passengers and freight in Greece and runs 342 passenger and commercial routes a day.