At least 36 people were killed and dozens more were injured when a passenger train carrying hundreds of people collided at high speed with a freight train in northern Greece, officials said Wednesday.
Around 350 passengers were on board the Hellenic Train headed from the capital, Athens, to Thessaloniki, a popular tourist destination, when the fiery "head-on" crash occurred near the town of Tempe just before midnight Tuesday local time, the rail company said in a statement.
In an update early Wednesday, fire officials said at least 36 people died in the crash, while 66 more were being treated for injuries. At least six of the injured were in intensive care, officials said.
They said they were still searching for any remaining trapped passengers at the crash site.
Multiple cars derailed, and at least three burst into flames after the collision, which sent the passenger train into a field next to the tracks near a gorge about 235 miles north of Athens, The Associated Press reported.
The local stationmaster in Larissa, a 59-year-old man responsible for overseeing signaling, has been arrested in connection with the crash, the AP reported, citing a police report. Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis resigned, saying he felt it was his “duty” to step down “as a basic indication of respect for the memory of the people who died so unfairly.”
Many of those on board were university students traveling back from a festival, officials said. "This is a terrible tragedy that is hard to comprehend," said Mina Gaga, the deputy health minister. "I feel so sorry for the parents of these kids."
Firefighters and Hellenic Train staff members rushed to the scene to snuff out the flames and rescue passengers, the company said.
In a separate statement, the company expressed “deep sorrow” and said it was cooperating with authorities. It said it would be providing support to the families of those killed, as well as those injured and other affected passengers.
The cause of the collision was not immediately clear.
Survivors said several passengers were thrown through the windows by the impact, according to the AP.
“There were many big pieces of steel,” said Vassilis Polyzos, a local resident who was one of the first people on the scene. “The trains were completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”
“People, naturally, were scared — very scared,” he said. “They were looking around, searching; they didn’t know where they were.”
The trains crashed just before the Vale of Tempe, a gorge separating the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia.
Costas Agorastos, the regional governor of the Thessaly area, told Greece’s Skai television the two trains crashed head-on at high speed, according to the AP.
“Carriage one and two no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” he said.
Passengers who were unharmed or who sustained minor injuries were taken by bus to Thessaloniki, about 80 miles north of the crash site, according to the AP.
The Hellenic Red Cross tweeted that an emergency blood donation drive was being set up in Larissa to help the injured.
Tributes from world leaders and other officials poured in.
"My thoughts are with the people of Greece after the terrible train accident that claimed so many lives last night near Larissa," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.
“The whole of Europe is mourning with you. I also wish for a speedy recovery for all the injured,” she said.
Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said: “Horrible tragedy in Greece last night My deepest condolences to the victims of this nightmare."
Greece's Foreign Affairs Ministry said it had received condolences from counterparts in Turkey, Portugal, Croatia and a number of other countries.
Hellenic Train is operated by Italy’s FS Group, which runs rail services across several European countries.
The rail company said in a statement Wednesday that all of its routes would be canceled beginning at noon Wednesday local time.