The Commercial Appeal

Funerals begin after Greek rail crash

- Vassilis Kommatas, Giannis Papanikos and Derek Gatopoulos

KATERINI, Greece – The funeral for the first of nearly 60 victims of Greece’s worst rail disaster was held Friday as families began receiving the remains of their loved ones following a harrowing identifica­tion process.

Athina Katsara, a 34-year-old mother of an infant boy, was being buried in her hometown of Katerini, in northern Greece. Her injured husband was in the hospital and unable to attend.

Recovery teams spent a third day scouring the wreckage in Tempe, 235 miles north of Athens, where a passenger train slammed into a freight carrier just before midnight Tuesday. The government has blamed human error and a railway official was charged Thursday with manslaught­er, in an accident that shocked the nation and highlighte­d safety shortcomin­gs in the small but dated rail network.

Checks of all the human remains recovered so far confirmed the death toll at 57, authoritie­s said Friday.

The force of the head-on collision and resulting fire complicate­d the task of determinin­g the death toll. Officials matched parts of dismembere­d and burned bodies with tissue samples to establish the number.

The bodies were being returned to

families in closed caskets following their identifica­tion through next-of-kin DNA samples – a process followed for all the remains.

Relatives of passengers still listed as unaccounte­d-for waited outside a hospital in the central city of Larissa for test results. Among them was Mirella Ruci, whose 22-year-old son, Denis, remained missing.

“My son is not on any official list so far and I have no informatio­n. I am pleading with anyone who may have seen him, in rail car 5, seat 22, to contact me if they may have seen him,” Ruci, who struggled to stop her voice from cracking, told reporters.

Police and civilian forensics specialist­s set up teams to run the complex, round-the-clock identifica­tion process, which involves two stages: Matching body parts to each individual victim and then establishi­ng identities using DNA samples from relatives of missing passengers.

Flags at the ancient Acropolis, parliament and other public buildings around Greece remained at half-staff on the third day of national mourning, while national rail services were halted by a strike for a second day.

Anger against authoritie­s in the wake of the tragedy grew over reports that the rail network lacked adequate safeguards to reduce the impact of human error. Not far from the hospital in Larissa, several thousand school children gathered in protest in a central square, chanting, “You never arrived, we will avenge you!”

A demonstrat­ion organized by student groups also took place in Athens, where hundreds of protesters chanting “Murderers!” held up white balloons for the victims, blocking traffic in the city center.

Police early Friday searched a rail coordinati­on office in Larissa, removing evidence as part of an ongoing investigat­ion.

The facility’s 59-year-old station manager, is due to testify before a public prosecutor on Saturday.

 ?? AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Recovery teams on Friday scour the wreckage in Tempe, Greece, where a passenger train slammed into a freight carrier Tuesday.
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Recovery teams on Friday scour the wreckage in Tempe, Greece, where a passenger train slammed into a freight carrier Tuesday.

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