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Greek Deadly Train Crash Survivors Describe Panic, Fire, Horror

TEMPE, Greece – Some surviving passengers on board a Greek passenger train that collided head-on with a cargo train on the same track during a late-night run from Athens to Thessaloniki said they had only seconds to escape when cars overturned and were engulfed in flames.

“We heard a big bang,” said 28-year-old passenger Stergios Minenis, who jumped to safety from the wreckage, he told Reuters.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/two-trains-collide-greece-dozens-feared-injured-2023-03-01/

“We were turning over in the carriage until we fell on our sides and until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic. Cables, fire. The fire was immediate. As we were turning over we were being burned. Fire was right and left,” he said.

“For 10, 15 seconds it was chaos. Tumbling over, fires, cables hanging, broken windows, people screaming, people trapped,” he said of the accident that happened shortly before midnight next to the national road near a gorge.

A crane operator, firefighters and rescuers work the scene of a collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras)
Debris of trains lie on the rail lines after a collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometres (235 miles) north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Those who got out, some crawling over broken glass through broken windows, and others using suitcases or whatever they could to get out before it was too late, talked about a “nightmarish 10 seconds” between life or death.

One rattled passenger told Greece’s SKAI TV that, “The  windows suddenly exploded” and “people were screaming and were afraid,” in fiery chaos in the dark as they scrambled for safety.

“Fortunately, we were able to open the doors and escape fairly quickly. In other wagons, they did not manage to get out, and one wagon even caught fire,” the survivor said.

Another passenger, Angelos Tsiamouras told local media the crash had felt like an earthquake, while another named Lazos told the newspaper Protothema: “I wasn’t hurt, but I was stained with blood from other people who were injured near me,” the BBC cited in its compilation.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64806678

About 150 firefighters and 40 ambulances were scent to the scene, Greek emergency services said, with cranes also used to remove debris.

“It was a very powerful collision,” the regional governor of the Thessaly region, Kostas Agorastos, told state-run broadcaster ERT. “This is a terrible night… It’s hard to describe the scene,” he said.

He said the first four carriages of the passenger train were derailed, and the first two carriages caught fire and were “almost completely destroyed.” He said that, “They were travelling at great speed and one (driver) didn’t know the other was coming,” just how that could happen not known yet.

Footage of the collision’s aftermath showed thick plumes of smoke rising from derailed carriages. Conditions for rescue workers were “very difficult” because of “the severity of the collision,” fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis told reporters, the report said.

Firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision in Tempe near Larissa city, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras)

EMERGED FROM TUNNEL

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. It’s tragic. Five hours later, we are finding bodies,” an exhausted rescuer emerging from the wreckage told Agence France-Presse.

“We are living through a tragedy. We are pulling out people alive, injured… there are dead. We are going to be here all night, until we finish, until we find the last person,” another volunteer rescue worker told ERT, said Reuters.

Sixty-six of those injured were hospitalised, six of whom are in intensive care, a fire official said.

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, where rescuers were looking for more survivors, added Reuters.

About 250 passengers out of a total of 350 were evacuated safely to Thessaloniki on buses, the report added.

New Democracy government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou – as elections are due to be announced – said that, “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.”

There is an ongoing investigation by a prosecutor and police into what caused the accident, a Hellenic Train official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Police temporarily detained the station master in Larissa and had summoned witnesses for questioning, ERT said.

Hellenic Train in a statement expressed, “its deep sorrow for the tragic accident,” but there was no immediate response from the Ministry of Transportation although Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was going to the scene and the government said there would be a three-day official mourning.

Smoke rises from trains as firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision near Larissa city, Greece, early Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras)

Overnight, rescue workers were seen carrying torches in carriages looking for trapped passengers.

“The evacuation of passengers is under way in very difficult conditions given the severity of the collision of the two trains,” fire brigade spokesperson Vassilis Varthakogiannis said.

“We are living through a tragedy. We are pulling out people alive, injured …there are dead,” he said.

Local media said the train left Athens around 7.30 p.m. and the fire brigade said it was informed of the accident shortly before midnight. The cargo train had been travelling from Thessaloniki to Larissa.

The aging train system, trains covered in graffiti and dirt, has long had problems and was known to be unreliable, Greece selling the state operator TRAINOSE to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in 2017 under bailout-driven privatization as part of its international bailout and was supposed to invest in modernization and bring a high-speed train between Greece’s capital and its second-largest city.

 

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