BARI (Puglia) • At least 20 people died and dozens were injured when two passenger trains collided head- on in southern Italy yesterday, a spokesman for the fire service said.
The crash happened on a single stretch of track in countryside between the towns of Corato and Andria. The trains had four carriages each.
An aerial image showed carriages smashed and crumpled by the force of the impact, with debris scattered among olive trees which flanked both sides of the track.
"Unfortunately the death toll has risen to 20," said Mr Giuseppe Corrado, the deputy head of the local province. He appealed for blood donors to go to local hospitals.
Thirty-four people were hospitalised, 18 of whom were in a serious condition, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Italian media.
Funeral wagons bearing coffins arrived at the scene to carry away the first of the dead.
"Some of the carriages are utterly crumpled and the rescue services are pulling people out," Mr Riccardo Zingaro, the head of Andria's traffic police, told journalists.
"We are working with dozens of rescue teams to open up the carriages," said Mr Luca Cari, a fire service spokesman, adding that they had saved a young boy from the wreckage. He was taken to hospital by helicopter, reported The Guardian.
Video images showed ambulances rushing to the scene with other rescue workers.
"The rescue is complicated because this happened in the middle of the countryside," said Mr Cari.
There was no immediate reason given for the collision, which took place in the late morning. It was not clear how many people had been on the trains.
"We won't stop until we get a clear explanation over what happened," said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who cut short a visit to Milan in northern Italy to return to Rome.
"This is a moment for tears in which we need to work to recover the victims and wounded," he added.
"It looks like there has been a plane crash," said the mayor of Corato, Mr Massimo Mazzilli.
Investigators said it was possible that the collision was caused by human error. One of the trains was supposed to have waited at a station for a green light before heading down the single track between the towns.
The stretch of track is operated by regional rail company Ferrotramviaria.
The last major rail disaster in Italy was in 2009, when a freight train derailed in Viareggio, in the centre of the country.
More than 30 people living close to the tracks died in the subsequent fire.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS