The death toll rose to 36 and a railroad worker was arrested Wednesday after the fiery, head-on collision of passenger and freight trains near the town of Tempe in northern Greece.
More than 80 people were injured, and the Greek government declared three days of national mourning.
The passenger train was carrying more than 300 people, including many university students returning home from Carnival, a three-day national party that precedes the Christian season of Lent. Multiple cars derailed and at least three burst into flames after the two trains ran into each other at high speed just before midnight Tuesday, authorities said.
Rescue crews spent hours combing through the wreckage, listening for the calls of survivors. Cranes were brought in to slowly peel away layers of the twisted, burned steel.
The stationmaster in the Greek city of Larissa, near where two trains collided Tuesday night, has been arrested, police said. A police statement identified the suspect only as a 59-year-old man. Two other people have been detained for questioning, police said.
Authorities did not immediately reveal their connection to the crash, and no cause was immediately revealed.
Eight rail employees were killed, including the two drivers of the freight train and the two drivers of the passenger train, Greek Railroad Workers Union President Yannis Nitsas said.
“There were many big pieces of steel,” said Vassilis Polyzos, a local resident who said he was one of the first people on the scene. “The trains were completely destroyed, both passenger and freight trains.”
He said dazed and disoriented people were escaping out of the train’s rear cars as he arrived.
“People, naturally, were scared – very scared,” he said. “They were looking around, searching; they didn’t know where they were.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who described the crash as “an unspeakable tragedy,” was travelling to the region, his office said.
“We will find out the causes of this tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again,” Mitsotakis said.
The trains crashed just before the Vale of Tempe, a gorge that separates the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. Costas Agorastos, the regional governor in Thessaly, told Greece’s Skai Television the two trains collided head on at high speed.
“Carriage one and two no longer exist, and the third has derailed,” he said.
Survivors said the impact threw several passengers through the windows of train cars. They said others fought to free themselves after the passenger train buckled, slamming into a field near the gorge 235 miles north of Athens.
Contributing: The Associated Press