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Fiery Greece train collision kills 32, injures at least 85

A freight train collided with a passenger train near Tempe, north of Athens, resulting in the derailment of several train cars.

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A passenger train carrying hundreds of people, including many university students returning home from vacation, collided at high speed with an oncoming freight train in a fiery wreck in northern Greece, killing 32 and injuring at least 85, officials said Wednesday.

Multiple cars derailed and at least three burst into flames after the collision near the town of Tempe on Tuesday just before midnight.

Rescue crews illuminated the scene with floodlights before dawn Wednesday as they searched frantically through the twisted, smoking wreckage for survivors. After sunrise, they turned to heavy machinery that had been brought in to start moving large pieces of the trains.

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Officials said many of the passengers on board the Athens-to-Thessaloniki train had been university students returning home after celebrating Carnival over the long weekend.

“This is a terrible tragedy that is hard to comprehend,” said Greek Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga. “I feel so sorry for the parents of these kids.”

The government has declared three days of national mourning.

Survivors said several passengers were thrown through the windows of the train cars due to the impact. They said others fought to free themselves after the passenger train buckled, slamming into a field next to the tracks near a gorge about 235 miles north of Athens.

“There were many big pieces of steel,” said Vassilis Polyzos, a local resident who said he was one of the first people on the scene. “The trains were completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”

He said dazed and disoriented people were escaping from the train’s rear cars as he arrived.

“People, naturally, were scared — very scared,” he said. “They were looking around, searching; they didn’t know where they were.”

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The crash occurred just before the Vale of Tempe, a gorge that separates the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. Costas Agorastos, the regional governor of the Thessaly area, told Greece’s Skai television the two trains crashed head-on at high speed.

“Carriage one and two no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” he said.

Rescuers wearing headlamps worked in thick smoke, pulling pieces of mangled metal from the cars to search for trapped people. Others scoured the field with flashlights and checked underneath the wreckage. Several of the dead are believed to have been found in the restaurant area near the front of the passenger train.

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Hospital officials in the nearby city of Larissa said at least 25 of those hurt had serious injuries.

“The evacuation process is ongoing and is being carried out under very difficult conditions due to the severity of the collision between the two trains,” Fire Service spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis said.

The possible cause of the collision was not immediately clear. Two rail officials were being questioned by police but had not been detained.

Passengers who suffered minor injuries or were unharmed were transported by bus to Thessaloniki, 80 miles to the north. Police took their names as they arrived, in an effort to track anyone who may be missing.

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A teenager who did not give his name told reporters that just before the crash, he felt a strong braking and saw sparks and then there was a sudden stop.

“Our carriage didn’t derail, but the ones in front did and were smashed,” he said, visibly shaken.

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

Rail operator Hellenic Train said the northbound passenger train from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, had about 350 passengers on board.

On state television, Agorastos described the collision as “very powerful” and said it was “a terrible night.”

“The front section of the train was smashed. ... We’re getting cranes to come in and special lifting equipment [to] clear the debris and lift the rail cars. There’s debris flung all around the crash site.”

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Officials said the army had been contacted to assist.

Hellenic Train, which has added high-speed services in recent years, is operated by Italy’s FS Group, which runs rail services in several European countries.

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