A passenger train and truck collided at a rail crossing in southern Australia on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people and injuring 24, police said. Authorities suggested the death toll could go higher since rescuers were still looking for three passengers still unaccounted for.
"The confirmed fatalities are now at least 11," Victoria state police spokeswoman Wendy Willingham said. Six critically hurt passengers were flown to hospitals in the state capital of Melbourne, and 18 others were treated for less serious injuries, Willingham said.
Emergency workers raced to the scene shortly after the early afternoon accident near the small farming town of Kerang in the state's northwest.
Rescuer Shane Leerson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. TV that no more survivors were expected to be found in the train, which was heading for Melbourne, about 175 miles to the southeast.
Willingham said the salvage operation had been scaled down until daylight Wednesday.
The truck collided with the train’s second carriage, mangling it and causing the carriage behind it to derail, Victoria state police spokesman Leigh Wadeson said.
Witnesses said the train’s locomotive and the first two of the train’s three carriages continued on about 500 feet after the impact.
“It just seemed like the whole train was going to derail,” said passenger Sue Fyffe.
The truck driver, who was alone in the vehicle, was among about 12 people who were seriously injured in the crash, Victoria state police Inspector Steve Gibson said.
While there was no barrier at the rail crossing, it had lights and bells to warn highway traffic of an approaching train.
Accident investigation experts were on the way to the scene from Melbourne, Gibson said. He would not publicly speculate on the cause of the accident.
“All I do know at this point in time is that it is a crossing of the rail over the highway which is guarded by flashing lights and warning bells and my information is that they were operating at the time of the accident,” Gibson said.
Victoria Premier Steve Bracks said the crash would be investigated a coroner and government rail authorities as well as police.