Rescuers operate at the site of a crash, where two trains collided, near the city of Larissa, Greece, March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis
By Lefteris Papadimas
LARISSA, Greece (Reuters) -Disbelief turned to despair and anger in Greece on Wednesday after dozens of people were killed in the country’s worst rail disaster in living memory.
Tuesday’s crash 220 miles north of Athens killed at least 36 people when a high-speed passenger train heading to the northern city of Thessaloniki careered into a freight train on the same track coming in the opposite direction, flying off the track and bursting into flames.
Survivors on the passenger train, which had about 350 people on board, said all they could remember was the train coming to a screeching halt, before front compartments were engulfed in flames.
Many kicked through windows to escape the inferno, others were flung up to 40 metres on impact.
First responders were searching through a smouldering mass of mangled steel for survivors hours after the wreck in the Tempi valley of central Greece. In the nearby city of Larissa, dozens of people gathered at a local hospital waiting for news of their relatives on the train.
Nikos Makris and his wife sat on a pavement outside the hospital, waiting for news of his sister in law, who had been visiting family in Athens. Others crowded the ground floor of the hospital facility, many in tears.
“She is missing. We have been waiting here since 2 am,” he told Reuters.
Makris said his sister in law, Maria, had been in the front compartment, where the fire brigade said temperatures had soared to up to 1300 degrees Celsius on impact.
“Now we are waiting to do a DNA test. We will be lucky to have a body to bury,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how the two trains ended up on the same track. “Because of the mistake of one idiot so many kids and people died,” Makris said. His wife, sitting next to him on the pavement, wept.
Others were angry. The relative of one victim shouted: “Some bastard has to pay for this.”
Many of the victims were thought to be university students, returning home to Thessaloniki, which has a large student population, after a long holiday weekend marking the start of Greek Orthodox lent. Steeped in tradition, it’s a highlight of the holiday calendar, marked by fancy dress parties and kite flying.
“My daughter called and said: “We are burning”, a man told state broadcaster ERT. “Her hair caught fire, she was screaming.”
“There was panic, cables (everywhere) fire, the fire was immediate, as we were turning over we were being burned, fire was right and left,” said 28-year old passenger Stergios Minenis.
Another passenger in one of the last carriages said he felt the train shake, then flip over.
“I managed to get out and went to the front, the train was bent at a 90 degree angle, half of it was hanging over the cliff burning. There were five people injured just where I stood,” he said.
The Tempi valley, where the crash occurred, is a notorious spot for accidents. In 2003, 23 school children were killed in a bus crash there.
(Additional reporting By Alexandros Avramidis, Renee Maltezou, Deborah Kyvrikosaios, Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou; writing by Michele Kambas; editing by Christina Fincher)