Greek transport minister resigns over train crash; 36 dead, scores injured


Greece`s transport minister resigned after a train accident killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens. Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis said he considered it his “duty” to step down “as a fundamental mark of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly”.

Rescue workers searched for survivors and bodies in flattened, burnt-out carriages on Wednesday after a passenger train and a freight train crashed head-on overnight in central Greece, killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens.

The cause of the crash near the Vale of Tempe, about 380 kilometers (235 mi) north of Athens, was not immediately clear, but the station master in the nearby town of Larissa was arrested on Wednesday. Police have not released his name.

Two more people have been detained for questioning. It’s unclear what speed the two trains were traveling at when they ran into each other just before midnight on Tuesday, but state broadcaster ERT said it was more than 90 miles per hour. Survivors said the impact threw several passengers through train car windows. ERT quoted rescuers as saying they found the bodies of some victims 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) from the impact site.

Stefanos Gogakos said it felt like an explosion as flames could be seen from his back car at the front of the train. “The glass in the windows shattered and fell on top of us,” he told ERT. “My head hit the roof of the carriage with the shock. Some people started to climb out through the windows because there was smoke in the carriage. The doors were closed, but within a few minutes the train crew opened them and we got out. “

Several cars derailed and at least three caught fire. On Wednesday, a carriage lay atop the crumpled remains of two more. “Temperatures reached 1,300 degrees Celsius, making it even more difficult to identify the people who were inside,” said fire service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis.

Many of the 350 people aboard the passenger train were students returning from the raucous Greek carnival, officials said. This year, the three-day festival, which precedes Lent, was fully celebrated for the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Visiting the scene of the accident, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government must help the injured recover and identify death. “I can guarantee one thing: we will find out the causes of this tragedy and we will do everything in our power so that nothing like this ever happens again,” Mitsotakis said.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou cut short an official visit to Moldova to lay flowers next to the wreck. The government declared three days of national mourning from Wednesday, as flags flew at half-mast outside all European Commission buildings in Brussels. Pope Francis expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased, in a message sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State to the President of the Greek Episcopal Conference. The pope “sends the assurance of his prayers to all those affected by this tragedy,” the message said.

On Wednesday, rescuers turned to cranes and other heavy machinery to move large chunks of the trains, revealing more bodies and dismembered remains. Officials said the military had been contacted to assist.

Rescuer Lazaros Sarianidis told state broadcaster ERT that crews were “very careful” disentangling steel, sheet metal and other material twisted together by the crash. “It will take a long time,” Saranidis said.

Read also: Greece: 36 dead, several injured in passenger train collision

Costas Agorastos, the regional governor of the region of Thessaly, told Greek television channel Skai that the two trains collided head-on at high speed. “Carriage one and two no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” he said.

The trains crashed just before the Vale of Tempe, a gorge that separates the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. “There were a lot of big pieces of steel,” said Vassilis Polyzos, a local resident who said he was one of the first people on the scene. “The trains have been completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”

He said dazed and disoriented people escaped from the back cars of the train when he arrived. “People were obviously scared, very scared,” he said.
“They looked around, searching, they didn’t know where they were.”

According to the president of the Hellenic Railways Union, Yannis Nitsas, eight railway employees were killed, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train.

The Greek fire service said some 66 people were hospitalized, six of them in intensive care. More than 200 people who were unharmed or suffered minor injuries in the crash were transported by bus to Thessaloniki, 130 kilometers (80 mi) to the north. Police took down their names when they arrived in an effort to track down any missing.

Barely able to hold back his tears, Greece’s Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis told reporters at the scene of the crash that authorities would investigate “in all seriousness and with full transparency” the causes of the crash. “We will do everything we can to investigate the causes and will not sweep anything under the rug,” Karamanlis said.

A surviving teen who did not give his name to reporters said he felt a strong brake and saw sparks just before the crash, then suddenly stopped.
“Our carriage did not derail, but those in front of us did derail and were destroyed,” he said, visibly shaken.

He added that the first car caught fire and that he used a bag to smash the window of his car, the fourth, and escape.

Railway operator Hellenic Train said the passenger train heading north to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, had about 350 passengers on board. Hellenic Train is operated by the Italian FS Group, which provides rail services in several European countries.

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