Train collision in Tempi: Mourners leave candles and flowers at Larissa station

train collision

With tears in their eyes, a crowd of people left flowers and candles at the OSE Larissa station for the victims of the train collision in Tempi.

Everyone held a white flower in their hand, while they formed with candles the date of the tragedy: 1-3-2023.

Approximately 15 minutes before the tragic accident, the passenger train had passed through the Larissa station.

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The tragedy

The number of dead from the tragedy in Tempi has now reached 43, Roubini Leontari, head of the Forensic Service of Larissa, said late on Wednesday to ERT.

He pointed out that the forensic examination was completed on 43 bodies, the majority of which were young people (20-30 years old).

There are four medical examiners in Larissa, as well as the head of the Medical Forensic Service of Athens.

The investigation into the wreckage of the trains has not been completed. Rescuers say there are unexplored sites that may hide other bodies.

At the same time, outside the General Hospital of Larissa, where the bodies have been transferred, another drama unfolds, that of the relatives who are asked to provide genetic samples for the identification of bodies.

ERT reported that 53 people provided DNA samples for the identification process, which will take several days. Many of the victims are dismembered, making identification very difficult.

CCTV captures the moment of the fatal train collision

Meanwhile, in the hospitals of Larissa, there are more than 50 wounded, with six of them, aged 20-25, struggling in the Intensive Care Units.

There were 341 passengers on board the passenger train, as well as 13 other staff – a total of 354 people. Two people were on board the freight train.

Just a month ago, one of the rail unions warned that underinvestment had raised the spectre of a serious crash. The president of the rail regulator said signalling systems were still reliant on being operated manually, leaving them open to "human error".

The death toll from the head-on collision of two trains in central Greece is likely to rise with officials acknowledging that scores of people have yet to be accounted for nearly 24 hours after it left at least 43 dead and many more injured.

“We find ourselves in front of an unimaginable tragedy,” Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, said in a statement. “We are mainly mourning young people.”

Late Wednesday, Larissa’s chief coroner, Roubini Leondari, said 43 bodies had been brought to her for examination and would require DNA identification.

As condolences poured in from around the world, the questions mounted. Footage of rescuers rushing to the site of the crash near a gorge about 380km (235 miles) north of Athens in a desperate effort to find survivors amid the mangled wreckage sent a shudder through the nation.

“We have to ask why?” said Sotiris Raftopoulos, the president of the Panhellenic association of retired railway workers. “How could this tragedy happen?”

The two trains – one carrying 342 passengers, the other transporting cargo from Thessaloniki to Larissa – collided at 11.20pm on Tuesday outside the town of Tempi after the Thessaloniki-bound night train, which had set out from Athens, inexplicably switched lanes and diverged to the freight track.

The two trains then travelled for several kilometres along the same track before colliding at high speed. Witnesses who rushed to the scene described the front two carriages of the passenger train, where most of the student victims were seated, as being completely destroyed.

On impact the wagons exploded into flames, sending huge sheets of steel into the air. Survivors later spoke of being ejected from carriage windows; others described how they had to struggle through plumes of acrid smoke to free themselves after the train buckled.

Many were subsequently caught on camera in the wreckage disoriented and dazed.

“A lot of passengers didn’t understand what exactly had happened because they were asleep,” one survivor was quoted as telling AMNA. “I was sleeping, too, and the sudden breaking shook [me awake]."

"When we realised what had happened, we tried to get out of the wagons, and when we managed that, we saw the chaos.”

From early on, the spotlight fell not only on a detained stationmaster – blamed for the “human error” that caused the collision – but, increasingly, also the dire state of the nation’s railways.

Announcing his resignation after visiting the site of the crash, the Greek transport minister, Kostas Karamanlis, said the network was so flawed it did “not befit the 21st century”.

“When something so tragic happens, it is impossible to continue and pretend like it didn’t happen,” he told reporters.

Stepping down was not only “a mark of respect toward the memory of the people who died so unfairly” but, he added, an assumption of responsibility “for the Greek state’s and Greek political system’s mistakes over the course of history”.

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who also rushed to Tempi, called a three-day period of official mourning, ordering flags to fly at half mast.

Pledging a full, independent investigation, Mitsotakis called the collision “a horrific rail accident without precedent in our country”.

“There is one thing only that I can guarantee: we will learn the cause of the tragedy and we will do whatever passes through our hands for something like this to never happen again,” he said.

In a late-night address, Mitsotakis vowed that “responsibilities will be assigned”. An independent cross-party committee of experts would, he pledged, immediately start looking into the causes of the crash.

“I met with relatives of the victims and the missing at the Larissa hospital. In their unspeakable pain, with great dignity, they asked me ‘why’,” he said. “It will also examine the longstanding delays in implementing railway projects.”

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