Greek transport minister resigns over train crash; 36 dead

TEMPE, Greece (AP) — Rescuers on Wednesday searched the burned-out wreckage of two trains that slammed into each other in northern Greece, killing at least 36 people and crumpling several carriages into twisted knots of steel.

Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he felt it was his “duty” to resign “as a fundamental sign of respect for the memory of those who died so unjustly”.

The cause of the accident near the Tempe Valley, a river valley about 380 kilometers (235 miles) north of Athens, was not immediately clear, but the station master in the nearby town of Larissa was arrested on Wednesday. The police did not release his name. Two other people were arrested for questioning.

It’s unclear how fast the passenger train and freight train were traveling when they collided just before midnight on Tuesday, but survivors said the impact threw several passengers through the windows of the carriages. State broadcaster ERT quoted rescuers as saying they found the bodies of some victims 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) from the impact site.


A teenage survivor who did not give his name to reporters said that just before the crash he felt sudden braking and saw sparks, then there was a sudden stop.

“Our car didn’t derail, but the ones in front did and were shattered,” he said, visibly shaken. He used a bag to break the window of his car, the fourth, and escape.

Stefanos Gogakos, who was in a rear carriage, said the accident looked like an explosion and he could see flames at the front of the train.

“The glass from the windows shattered and fell on us,” he told ERT. “My head hit the roof of the car with the jolt. Some people started coming out of the windows because there was smoke in the car. The doors were closed but a few minutes later the train staff opened them and we went out.

Several cars derailed and at least one caught fire.

“Temperatures reached 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 degrees Fahrenheit), making it even more difficult to identify who was there,” fire department spokesman Vassilis Varthakoyiannis said.


On Wednesday, rescuers turned to cranes and other heavy machinery to start moving large pieces of trains, revealing more bodies and dismembered remains.

“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. “Trains were completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”

Rescuer Lazaros Sarianidis told ERT that crews were trying “very carefully” to untangle the steel, sheet metal and other materials that were twisted together by the crash. “It will take a long time,” Sarianidis said.

Greece’s firefighting services said some 76 people had been hospitalized, six of them in intensive care.

More than 200 uninjured or slightly injured people were taken by bus to Thessaloniki, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north. Police took their names when they arrived, aiming to track down anyone who might be missing.

Eight railway workers were among those killed in the accident, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, according to the president of the Greek Railway Workers’ Union, Yannis Nitsas.


Many of the 350 people on the passenger train were students returning from Greece’s noisy carnival, officials said. This year was the first time the festival, which precedes Lent, has been celebrated in its entirety since the pandemic began in 2020.

The government declared three days of national mourning from Wednesday, while flags flew at half-mast in front of all European Commission buildings in Brussels.

Visiting the scene of the crash, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government must help the injured recover and identify the dead.

“I can guarantee one thing: we will find out the causes of this tragedy and we will do everything in our power to ensure that something like this never happens again,” Mitsotakis said.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou interrupted an official visit to Moldova to visit the scene, laying flowers next to the wreckage.

Pope Francis offered his condolences to the families of the dead, in a message sent to the president of the Greek bishops’ conference on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State,

The pontiff “sends the assurance of his prayers to all those affected by this tragedy,” the post read.


Paphite reported from Athens, Greece. Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Patrick Quinn and David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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