Rescuers are still searching the wreckage of two passenger trains that ploughed into each other at high speed in southern Italy – killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens.
Three carriages were torn apart by the violence of the impact after the two trains hit each other while travelling down the same stretch of track linking the small towns of Corato and Andria in the southeastern Puglia region.
There was no immediate indication of what had caused one of Italy’s worst train disasters in recent years, but the government promised a full and swift investigation.
Investigators managed to find the black box of one train and a fragment of the other.
The commander of the fire brigade in Bari told La Repubblica: “We are gradually demolishing the pieces of the crashed cars, then we will proceed to the removal of the remains.
“We will work in this manner, with the help of dogs, until we are certain there is no one left.”
“Tears and grief for the victims and their families, but also a lot of anger. We demand clarity over what happened in Puglia,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter, before making his way to the region to meet with rescuers and local politicians.
“We will remain at the side of the people of Puglia in this moment of great pain and desperation,” he said in the evening, adding that Transport Minister Graziano Delrio would report to parliament on the accident today.
The crash happened at around 11.30am (local time) on a fiercely hot summer’s day.
Both trains were comprised of four carriages.
The front carriages on each were pulverised as they slammed into one another.
Sky Italia TV said one of the drivers had died, with no word yet about the fate of the other one.
“It looks like there has been a plane crash,” said the mayor of Corato, Massimo Mazzilli.
Rescue services parked their ambulances and fire trucks among the olive trees and set up a field hospital to treat the injured.
“I dug through the wreckage and managed to save my husband. But I saw people cut to pieces,” said an elderly woman standing alongside her husband, whose head was swathed in bandages.
Another survivor said he was thrown to the floor by the impact.
“When I got up, I saw hellish scenes around me.”
Kicking up clouds of dust, helicopters landed in a nearby field to pick up the most seriously injured.
It was not clear how many people had been on the trains at the time of the collision. By mid-afternoon a giant crane had arrived at the scene to start lifting the smashed carriages to see if any bodies were trapped under the wreckage.
The stretch of track is operated by a small, private rail company Ferrotramviaria. Italian media said the European Union had earmarked funds to build a second track along the route but that the work had been delayed.
The last major rail disaster in Italy was in 2009 when a freight train derailed in Viareggio, in the centre of the country, and more than 30 people living close to the tracks died in the subsequent fire.