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Greece Grieves as Death Toll from Train Disaster Rises to 42

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Greece is searching for answers as the death toll from the fatal train crash near Larissa rose to 42, Greece’s fire brigade said on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the fire department told AFP that rescue crews worked throughout the night searching for survivors, but the chances were diminishing. “Time is not on our side,” she said.

The accident happened late Tuesday when two trains collided near a tunnel outside Larissa. Two carriages were destroyed and a third caught fire, trapping people inside.

Passengers described scenes of terror and chaos from the crash, many dodging broken glass and debris as the train overturned, and smashing windows to climb out.

Rescue workers at the scene said they had never dealt with a disaster of this magnitude.

Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and some of the passengers were identified by body parts.

Several people are still believed missing – including two Greek Cypriots – although the authorities have not released any official estimate.

The head of the center who was working at the time of the accident was due to appear before the public prosecutor in the central city of Larissa later on Thursday.

The 59-year-old will have to explain how a passenger train carrying about 350 people was allowed to run on the same line as a freight train for several kilometers.

“It was a student train, full of kids…in their 20s,” Kostas Pargiotas, chief orthopedist at Larissa General Hospital, told Sky TV.

“It was really shocking… the gigs fell apart like paper,” he said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – who will seek re-election this year with a vote expected in April – said it was a “horrific, unprecedented train accident” in Greece, and promised a “full” investigation into the tragedy.

‘Tragic human error’

“Everything shows that the drama was unfortunately due to tragic human error,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address Wednesday after visiting the disaster site.

The authorities declared three days of national mourning.

Passengers described scenes of horror and chaos, avoiding shattered glass and debris as the train rolled over, and being forced to break windows to climb out.

“It was a nightmare… I’m still shivering,” passenger Angelos, 22, told AFP, adding that the collision sounded “like a strong earthquake.”

“It was a train of terror,” Pavlos Aslanidis, whose son was among the missing along with a friend, told reporters.

Rescuers had to call off the search late Wednesday to give exhausted crews and crane operators a break.

The Greek Minister of Transport submitted his resignation hours after the accident.

“When something so tragic happens, we cannot continue as if nothing happened,” Costas Karamanlis said in a public statement.

But train unionists said the safety shortcomings of the Athens-Thessaloniki railway had been known for years.

In an open letter last month, train employees said the track’s safety systems are incomplete and poorly maintained.

The safety supervisor resigned last year, warning that infrastructure upgrades, which have been suspended since 2016, were incomplete and that train speeds of up to 200km (124mph) were unsafe.

Five years after Greek rail operator Trainose was sold to Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train, safety systems on the Athens-Thessaloniki line are still not fully automated.

Students protest

Protests took place on Wednesday evening at Thessaloniki train station in the city of Larissa and outside the Athens offices of the Italian-owned Hellenic Railway, with demonstrators throwing stones at the building and at the police.

In Larissa, protesters held a silent vigil and brought white roses to form the word Tempe, the name of the valley where the incident occurred.

Nikos Savva, a medical student from Cyprus, told AFP the disaster was only a matter of time.

“The rail network seemed problematic, with rickety staff who were poorly paid,” he said.

The plant’s operator will be charged with negligent homicide on Thursday and face a life sentence if convicted.

But Savva said that the man “should not pay for a completely sick system.”

“This is an unacceptable incident. We have known this situation for 30 years,” said Pargiotas, Larissa’s doctor.

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