‘I Can’t Find My Child’: Agony as Search of Greek Train Crash Wraps Up

The fire service in Greece started winding down a gruesome search on Friday at the scene of the country’s deadliest train crash on record as the authorities informed the relatives of some victims identified by their DNA and other families desperately sought information about missing loved ones.

The crash occurred late Tuesday near the Vale of Tempe, in northern Greece, after a passenger train carrying more than 350 people and a freight train raced toward each other on the same tracks for 12 minutes.

Railway workers in Greece were on strike for a second day, a reflection of the rising anger about the accident, which killed at least 57 people, and of the broader concerns about the country’s rail safety record, the worst in Europe.

As part of their investigation, investigators were combing through audio files, documents and notes from the Larissa train station, about 12 miles from the crash site.

The 59-year-old station master, who has not been publicly identified, has been accused of making a mistake that led to the collision and is to appear on Saturday before a magistrate on criminal charges of manslaughter through neglect.

Many of those killed in the crash were young people, touching a nerve in Greece and prompting demonstrations in the capital, Athens, and in Thessaloniki, which is home to a large number of university students and was the destination of the passenger train.

On Friday morning, schoolchildren and parents staged a protest outside the station in Larissa, holding banners saying, “No cover-ups” and “It wasn’t human error” — an apparent riposte to comments from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about the cause of the collision.

Later in the day, thousands of students marched in Athens, some holding white balloons with writing that said “57 tickets of death” and “Profits painted in the blood of students.” More rallies were planned.

Greek trains run along a rudimentary system with safety features that work only sporadically, according to union and safety officials, and the network is less sophisticated than those of many other European countries.

The crash left rail cars strewn about the tracks, and the authorities were to begin moving the wreckage from the site once the search for human remains was complete.

“We will do a final search today, remove the carriages to search underneath them and then start clearing the area,” said Ioannis Artopios, a spokesman for the Greek fire service.

He added that most of the human remains had been removed from the crash site, though rescuers were still pulling out the charred remains of belongings such as backpacks, cellphones and laptops.

Even though the official death toll was 57 as of Friday afternoon, there was an element of confusion: Only 56 people have been reported as missing by relatives. “There is the possibility that a missing passenger was not reported by relatives or that others boarded at stations along the route,” Mr. Artopios said.

The Greek police were notifying relatives of the dead after family members submitted their DNA for identification. A total of 36 matches were confirmed as the authorities went through the painstaking process and continued to carry out tests on remains retrieved from the site.

Constantina Dimoglidou, a spokeswoman for the Greek police, said that it was not yet clear whether those remains were from people who had already been identified. She added that mental-health professionals were assisting the police in informing relatives.

Among the missing was Denis Ruci, a 22-year-old whose mother spoke to reporters outside Larissa General Hospital while holding a photograph of her son.

“He bought a ticket online for Carriage 5, Seat 22,” she said, adding that he had lived in Thessaloniki and had been visiting friends in Athens. “We have no idea where he is. But if anyone saw him in Seat 22 or recognizes him, please inform me because I can’t find my child.”

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, much of the focus was on Greece’s poor safety record, but the chief prosecutor for the Greek Supreme Court, Isidoros Doyiakos, said on Thursday that a judicial investigation into the causes of the collision should be wide-ranging and look beyond the accident on Tuesday night.

“Judicial judgment should not be restricted to the criminal responsibility of specific individuals,” he said in a statement. “The proper dispensation of justice is the best way to commemorate the souls of the dead.”

Giorgos Andreou, whose son owns one of the hotels in Larissa that was allowing relatives of the victims to say for free, said the fallout was reminiscent of war.

“It’s in times of war that parents bury their children,” he said.

Mr. Andreou partially blamed cutbacks imposed during the Greek financial crisis, which started in 2009 and ran for nearly a decade, for the inadequacies of the country’s railway. He also pointed a finger at the state’s chronic failure to remedy the enduring problems with the system. He said that the episode reminded him of another train crash, in 1972, when he was a teenager, near the village of Doxaras, in which 19 people died.

“Exactly the same thing happened,” he said, “Nothing has changed.”

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