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Society

Raging Grief for Greece’s Train Tragedy Dead, Young Lives Lost

ATHENS – The head-on train collision in Greece that killed 57 people, many students on their way back from Athens carnival celebrations to universities in the second-largest city Thessaloniki, has left people shaking in rage, gripped by grief.

But only a few of the names – or the stories and hopes and vanished dreams – of the dead lost forever, have come out in news stories, even this disaster likely soon to be forgotten, although it could affect oncoming elections.

One who avoided the disaster, and almost certain death as he was planning to be on the train and in the first carriages of a passenger train carrying 350 people that smashed into an oncoming cargo train was Giorgos Christides, who decided at the last moment to fly instead.

He who wrote for the BBC about his escaping the tragedy and also of knowing some of the victims, three from his small neighborhood in Thessaloniki where the anger and hurt reverberate, people looking for someone to blame but just wanting back those lost.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64912881

They included Dimitra Kapetaniou, a student he said boarded the train that fateful night of Feb. 28 at Volos, a city en route, the passengers unaware of what was coming – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said to have been  unaware of railway safety lapses as he was of a phone bugging scandal too.

She was in one of the front carriages that were torn apart by the ferocity of a crash with trains traveling at 160 kilometers (100 miles per hour) smashing head on, exploding into a fire of 2,372 degrees, twice that of a crematorium.

The horror left even rescue and recovery workers shaken, including those who had just returned from helping Turkey death with the aftermath of an earthquake. Families in Greece got back pieces and ashes, identified by DNA.

“Dimitra was well loved in my neighborhood in Thessaloniki. A slender young woman with long, curly hair she always had a huge smile. She had worked as a dog-sitter during her studies and my dog, Roman, had spent countless days at her house, often on her bed,” wrote Christides.

A fourth victim was seriously injured but survived but among those who didn’t were Kelly Porfyridou, 23, a theology student who died with her boyfriend Nikitas Karatheodorou, also 23.

He was a fireman whose colleagues said was on his way to visit his parents in Thessaloniki and their funerals were held jointly in a neighborhood where people were left dazed and confused by what happened.

“When I walk my dog, go to the bakery, the butcher’s or the kiosk, the conversation turns invariably to the train wreck and it often ends in tears. No-one can get to grips with this disaster and you can sense the rage at the Greek political system and decades of political failings,” wrote Christides.

THEY’RE ALL GONE

“This tragedy has shaken Greece. So many of the lives lost were young and it has unleashed a national outpouring of grief and outrage mostly directed against the country’s ruling classes. Not for the first time, Greeks feel betrayed by their politicians,” he said.

Mitsotakis took much of the criticism after revelations his government, in power almost four years and boasting of bringing Greece into the high-technology age, left the trains unsafe and with manual operations at some stations.

“The direct cause of this disaster may have been human error. But it would have been averted had Greece not grossly neglected such a core part of its critical infrastructure. The rail network has suffered from years of underinvestment and neglect, and Greece’s prolonged debt crisis is only part of the story,” Christides wrote of what lingers.

The young feel the pain, taking to the streets in fury, carrying signs stating “This crime will not be forgotten, we will become the voice of all the dead”; “This was not an accident, it was murder.”

The piece complained that while billions were being spent on new fighter jets that critical infrastructure was left underfunded and understaffed and that the ruling class “neglected the rail system, privatized operations, spent millions on security systems only to let them rot and wasted vital EU funding.”

In Thessaloniki it’s personal. “They don’t care about us. They don’t care about our lives,” said Giorgos, a retired senior manager in Christides’ neighborhood,  who knew two of the young victims well: “What do I do? Who do I vote for? No one is worth it,” he said.

With elections coming, polls show Mitsotakis’ lead that in 2022 had been as high as 14 percent before the phone bugging scandal has now nearly evaporated to 2.9 percent and with 17.4 percent undecided, Greeks also blaming former governments for failures.

Christides said Mitsotakis has also lost one of his major selling points, that of being a competent manager who was left in the dark about the surveillance scandal and the dangers of the railways long being neglected.

“Putting the tax system online is understandably overshadowed by voters’ realization that their rail network is a veritable death trap,” he wrote about high-tech modernization of sectors other than the railways.

Christides said after the quiet funeral for Kapetaniou that, “The political fallout means little to the families who lost their loved ones … when I saw her mother, I asked her if there was anything we could do. She responded: ‘I just want my daughter back.’”

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