Anger runs high in Greece after train crash kills at least 47 people

After years of cancellations due to the pandemic, Athens last weekend held a carnival and crowds of Greeks flocked to celebrate. Vaios Vlachos and Daphne Brella, a couple dressed as marble busts, were among them before they rushed to catch the Tuesday night train to get home in time for work the next morning.

But just before midnight, the train they and hundreds of others traveling on it collided with a freight train near Tempe, northern Greece, killing 47 people, making it the worst train accident in the country’s history. Mr Vlachos, 32, was still missing on Wednesday night and Ms Brella was in intensive care.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Mr Vlachos’ brother, Evangelios, adding that as time went on, he lost hope of finding his brother alive. “Every hour feels like poison.”

Greece is expected to hold a general election in the coming weeks and although it is unclear if or how the crash will affect the vote, there have been signs for saw the crash reverberating in the country with the worst rail safety record in Europe.

On Wednesday in Athens, protesters clashed with police outside the headquarters of Hellenic Train, the company responsible for the maintenance of Greece’s railways. Protests were also reported in Larissa, near the crash site, and Thessaloniki, to the north. The Panhellenic Railway Workers Union has announced a 24-hour strike, so no trains will run on Thursday in Greece.

The passenger train that crashed was carrying about 350 people and 57 people were still hospitalized, including some in intensive care. It is not clear how many people are missing.

The search for survivors continues at the crash site, with cranes lifting sections of the two carriages so rescuers can search below, an already difficult operation. complicated by continuous rainfall.

The circumstances that led to two trains traveling on the same track were at the heart of frenzied controversies and speculations in Greece, but much of what happened remains unclear.

The station manager in Larissa, about 12 miles from the crash site, was arrested Wednesday and faced an investigative judge, where he was given an extension until Saturday to prepare his defense. .

The station manager, 59, has not been identified. He faces charges of manslaughter by neglect and disruption to the safety of public transport, amid reports in Greece that he directed two trains into the direction of collision. of them.

Greece’s Health Minister, Thanos Plevris, said that many of the passengers were young adults or college students who could have taken advantage of the three-day weekend to celebrate the carnival, period have fun just before Lent. Thessaloniki, the train’s destination, is Greece’s second largest city and is known as a university city with tens of thousands of students.

Vaios Vlachos and Daphne Brella. He was still missing Wednesday night, and she is in the intensive care unit.Credit…Mission Vlachos

On Wednesday night, Georgios Smirnopoulos, a taxi driver in Thessaloniki, drove past Aristotle University, the largest school in Greece, and pointed at it, wondering if any of the crash victims had attended school. that’s not.

“It’s a lot of students, young people,” he said. “Today is a tragic day.”

Anastasia Papaggeli, 18, an agriculture student at Aristotle University, was among those missing after the collision. Her older sister, 20-year-old Urania, said that Anastasia went to the city of Patras, near Athens, for a carnival where she dressed up as an elf.

Anastasia phoned Urania around 11pm on Tuesday to say she was fine and was on her way back to Thessaloniki on an overnight train. A few hours later, Urania reads the news of the fatal accident. She called her sister, who was traveling in the third car of the train, but there was no answer.

“It’s terrible,” Urania said Thursday after arriving in Larissa hoping to learn more. “I’m just waiting.”

Fourteen victims of the crash were still in hospital as of Thursday morning. One of them, 28-year-old Stergios Mineamis, was on his way to see his brother in Thessaloniki.

He took the night train because all the others were full, he said. When the train stopped in Larissa, he went to the toilet to smoke a cigarette, he added. As he returned to his wagon, he said he heard a loud bang, then another hour and another as the lights went out and smoke enveloped the carriage. Outside the window, he recalled, he could only see flames and distorted steel “like blades”.

“At every explosion, I thought I was dead,” he said. “It was a disaster like hell.”

He eventually managed to jump out of his tilted wagon from a broken window, he added, but his relief was quickly replaced by anger at the officials present. at the accident scene.

“They are all responsible for what happened,” he said. “I feel terrible for this country.”

College students who flocked to a hospital in Thessaloniki to donate blood shared his feelings of anger and distrust. Doctors say more than 500 people have donated blood, a large amount in recent history that can only be compared with the summer of 2018, when Fire ravages the seaside resort of Matiin southern Greece.

Chrysanthos Bouroutzoglou, 20, a music student, said: ‘This is not a tragedy like a natural disaster, this is completely predictable. “You can track in real time the burgers you order, how could they not know where the train is?”

Mr Vlachos and Mrs. Brella, who have been together for many years, arrive in the capital with their handmade costumes. Mr Vlachos’ brother said they usually travel between Athens and Thessaloniki by car, but higher gas prices have prompted them to switch to trains.

“To save money,” said the brother. “And because they think it’s safer.”

Some of the bodies have yet to be identified because the crash was so violent that they could not be identified. Mr Vlachos’ mother gave doctors a sample of her blood in case they needed it for DNA identification.

As rescuers pulled the body of a victim out of the wreckage of a two-train engine on Wednesday, one of the workers said the body was unrecognizable with the naked eye.

Among family members and friends waiting anxiously for the news was Christina Mitska. Her 22-year-old sister, Ifigeneia Mitska, is among those missing. “We don’t know what happened to her,” Christina said. “No one saw her.”

Across Greece, anger is high over the country’s poor rail safety record. According to the head of the railway workers union, the two trains were running towards each other for 12 minutes before the collision.

A railway official said the electronic monitoring and warning system along the tracks was ineffective, partly due to budget problems and partly because the system was not working adequately to prevent accidents. such accident. The government has announced an independent investigation into the cause of the disaster.

Mr Vlachos, awaiting news of his brother, said it was a tragedy that security systems that could save lives were not deployed.

“If we lose him,” he said, “I don’t think the state or any state can make up for something like that.”


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