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Rescuers recover 18 bodies from Brussels train wreckage

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT , Mark THOMPSON


Latest update : 2010-02-16

Two trains crashed head-on near Halle in Belgium, killing at least 18 people. Train services, including the high-speed link between Brussels and Paris, have been interrupted.

AFP - A head-on collision between two rush-hour commuter trains outside Brussels Monday killed at least 18 people and injured 162, the local governor said, adding that driver error was suspected.

Emergency workers suspended after nightfall a search for more bodies in the mangled wreckage of the carriages.

"We don't think there are any more victims in the trains," said crisis centre official Anja De Wolf. "But there could still be more bodies trapped under the carriages," she said.

The high-speed crash, one of the worst rail accidents in Belgian history, happened at around 8:30 am (0730 GMT) as commuters headed to work in the capital.

The front ends of both trains were pushed upwards in a mass of twisted metal.

Other carriages were hurled onto their sides in thick snow near Halle, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Brussels.

The accident, which involved 250-300 commuters in the two trains, left thousands of travellers elsewhere stranded as Eurostar and Thalys suspended international services to and from the city.

Groggy survivors wandered around in a state of shock or burst into tears as they were taken to a nearby sports centre to be treated. The Belgian Red Cross issued an appeal for blood donors.

"The shock was terrifying, it knocked us down like ninepins," said a survivor who gave her name only as Sylvie as she emerged with an injured arm.

Gaetan, 36, who was in one of the last carriages of the train coming from Mons, near the French border, was unharmed and said he was lucky. "I saw people dead and injured," he told AFP.

Flemish Brabant provincial governor Lodewijk De Witte said the bodies of 15 men and three women had been recovered.

He said another 162 people were injured, with 11 in serious condition.

One of the two train drivers was said to be among the victims, though identification of all the bodies could take another day, according to the governor.

Firefighters who helped pulled the bodies out of the train wreckage also collected fragments of clothing from the site to help with the grim identification process.

An investigation was launched to determine the cause of the crash, which surviving passengers said came totally without warning.

De Witte said one train had apparently failed to stop at a red light and hit the other at high speed.

The train line where the crash happened is fitted with a security system designed to halt trains automatically at a stop sign.

However one of the trains was not equipped with the system, according to Marc Descheemaecker, a senior official with the Belgian rail company SNCB.

Prime Minister Yves Leterme cut short a trip to the Balkans to head back to Belgium.

Belgian King Albert II similarly interrupted a holiday in the south of France to visit the crash site with Leterme in the afternoon.

"First Liege, and now this," Leterme said, referring to the collapse last month of an apartment bock in the eastern Belgian city where 14 dead were pulled out of the rubble.

The accident also revived painful memories of a 1974 derailment in which 18 people died.

The crash on a key line caused widespread rail disruption, with all Eurostar high-speed train services to and from London cancelled along with Thalys rail services to France, Germany and The Netherlands.

The disruption was set to continue on Tuesday and perhaps beyond as the official probe sifts through the wreckage for two or three days.

Messages of aid and condolences also came swiftly from the European Union, which has its headquarters in Brussels.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy, himself Belgian, spoke of his "great shock and sorrow" at the news of the tragedy while European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said his executive stood ready to help where possible.

Date created : 2010-02-15


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