(TEMPI, Greece) — At least 38 people were killed and more than 80 others injured in a head-on collision between a freight train and a passenger train in Greece late Tuesday, in what was mainly due to human error, officials said.
The crash occurred shortly before midnight in the town of Tempi along the Athens-Thessaloniki route at the entrance to the Vale of Tempe, a tree-lined gorge that separates the northern Greek regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. The two trains were running toward each other on the same track and the force of the high-speed collision derailed multiple cars, with some bursting into flames, according to Greece’s Hellenic Fire Service.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in remarks Wednesday that the train collision was “mainly due to tragic human error.”
About 350 people were on board the northbound passenger train, which was traveling from Athens to Thessaloniki, according to the Greek rail operator Hellenic Train.
At least 150 firefighters, including some from specialized units, and 40 ambulances responded to the scene with the assistance of 32 police officers and 15 patrol vehicles, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.
The next morning, rescuers were still searching for survivors in the smoking wreckage, using cranes to lift the derailed carriages. Their efforts were initially focused on the first two cars, which had “overturned” and were “the most difficult to extricate,” a Hellenic Fire Service spokesperson said in a statement early Wednesday.
The impact of the collision left the passenger train’s restaurant car on top of two other cars. A blaze broke out in that carriage, with temperatures reaching as high as 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 degrees Fahrenheit), which “makes it difficult to identify the people inside,” the Hellenic Fire Service spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
The search and rescue operation at the site of the train collision will continue overnight, the Greek Fire Service said in a statement late Wednesday.
The fire servicemen will continue the search “until the last stone is turned,” the Greek Fire Service said.
A 59-year-old Greek citizen has been arrested in connection with the ongoing investigation into the deadly crash, according to Greece’s Hellenic Police.
Meanwhile, authorities are still working to identify the dead, whose bodies were taken to the general hospital in the nearby city of Larissa, a Hellenic Police spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
As for the injured, 72 remain hospitalized, including six in critical condition, while the rest have been treated and released, according to the Hellenic Fire Service.
The Greek government has declared three days of national mourning in the wake of the tragedy.
Greece “will stand by the families of the victims” and “work so that this ‘never again’ that I heard in Larissa will not be a hollow word,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis said in a short video address posted on his official Twitter account Wednesday.
Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis announced his resignation on Wednesday after visiting the crash site in Tempi, saying he felt it was his “duty” to do so “as a minimum sign of respect” to the victims.
“When something this tragic happens, it is impossible to go on as if it didn’t happen,” Karamanlis wrote in a post on Facebook. “This is called political responsibility.”
Prime Minister Mitsotakis announced he has appointed a new interim Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, George Gerapetritis, to hold the office until national elections.
Mitsotakis asked the new interim minister to establish an “independent and non-partisan committee of experts” to investigate the cause of the accident and investigate the “long-standing delays” in the implementation of railway projects.
Two more executives also resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the crash, according to Mitsotakis: Spyros Pateras, the president of the Hellenic Railways Association, and Christos Vinis, president and managing director of the national railway subsidiary ERGOSE.
ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman and Daphne Tolis contributed to this report.
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