- At least 46 killed in Greece’s worst train disaster
- Rail workers walk off the job in protest against safety standards
Larissa, GREECE, March 2 (Reuters) – Rescuers combed charred and buckled rail cars for more victims of Greece’s deadliest train crash on Thursday, a disaster that killed at least 46 people and has sparked a national outpouring of grief and anger.
The high-speed passenger train with more than 350 people on board collided head-on with a freight train near the city of Larissa late Tuesday. Wagons were thrown off the track, with two completely crushed and several engulfed in flames.
“The most difficult moment is this, where instead of saving lives we have to recover bodies,” 40-year-old rescuer Konstantinos Imanimidis told Reuters at the crash site, 130 miles (210 km) north of Athens.
“Temperatures of 1,200 degrees and more in the carriages cannot allow anyone to remain alive.”
Nearby, two brothers wept and said they had come to the crash site hoping to get some news about their father, aged in his 60s, after the hospital could not tell them if his body had been recovered.
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Many of the passengers had to kick through windows to escape the flames. In order to identify some of the victims, relatives had to provide DNA samples at a hospital in Larissa, where disbelief turned to anger for some.
“Some bastard has to pay for this,” shouted a relative
Many of the victims were university students returning home from a long holiday weekend, and officials said the death toll was expected to rise further. Scores were damaged.
The wreck sparked sadness and anger across Greece, where the government has declared three days of national mourning.
Protesters threw stones at the train company’s offices in Athens in the evening, before being dispersed by tear gas volleys fired by riot police. Protests also broke out in Thessaloniki.
And on Thursday, trains were halted in a day of strikes against what unions said was successive governments’ refusal to heed repeated demands to improve safety standards.
Newly appointed Transport Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis said he had been tasked with investigating the causes of the accident and modernizing the infrastructure, after his predecessor, Kostas Karamanlis, resigned on Wednesday following the accident.
The station master at Larissa railway station was arrested on Wednesday as authorities investigated the circumstances that led to the passenger train, bound for the northern city of Thessaloniki, colliding with another freight container train coming in the opposite direction on the same track.
He was expected to appear before a local magistrate on Thursday.
In a televised address on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had earlier visited the site of the crash, said evidence pointed to human error.
Nikos Tsouridis, a retired train driver trainer, said human error did not fully explain what happened.
“The station manager made a mistake, he acknowledged it, but surely there should be a fallback mechanism,” he said.
Greece sold rail operator TRAINOSE under its international bailout program in 2017 to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, and expects hundreds of millions of euros to be invested in rail infrastructure in the coming years.
The Italian operation is responsible for passengers and cargo, and the Greek state-controlled OSE for infrastructure.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Alexandros Avramidis, Renee Maltezou, Karolina Tagaris, Michele Kambas; Written by Renee Maltezou and Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frank Jack Daniel
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