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18 killed in Belgian train crash, official says

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The cause of the crash on Monday morning not immediately clear
  • Official: 18 people dead, 162 people injured by crash
  • News agency: Wounded treated at a sports center near the scene of the accident
  • The crash has caused disruption to parts of the wider rail network in Europe

Halle, Belgium (CNN) -- At least 18 people died and 162 were hurt when two trains collided in Halle on Monday, a government spokeswoman said.

The trains collided head-on at 8:30 a.m., the companies that run the Belgian railways and the train said.

The cause of the accident is not known, according to the railway operator, Infrabel, and SNCB, the train operator.

Authorities do not believe there is anyone else on the trains, said Anya De Wols, spokeswoman for the province of Flemish Brabant. But they have not ruled out the possibility bodies could be pinned beneath the train cars, she said, and they plan to lift the cars from the track by Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, investigators will collect personal effects, such as wallets, from the scene to help identify the victims, she said.

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A Belgian government spokesman, Bart Ouvry, said it was snowing at the time of the crash, but not an unusual amount.

Video: Deadly head-on train crash
Video: Trains collide in Belgium
Video: Passenger's wife details crash
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  • Belgium
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People were thrown against the walls of the trains by the impact, said Emily Divinagracia, whose husband, Stephan Riviere, was a passenger.

He was awakened by the impact, she said he told her by phone minutes after the accident.

It took about 30 minutes for rescue crews to arrive, and some passengers did not immediately know there had been a collision, she said.

"He was actually getting the news from me, because they didn't know much on their side and it was all a bit disorganized, obviously, because nobody expected this sort of thing to happen," she said.

Riviere was not badly injured, his wife said.

The injured were being treated at a sports center near the scene of the accident, the Belga news agency reported. Fifty-five of them were taken to hospitals, while more than a hundred others had minor injuries, De Wols said.

The crash took place during morning rush hour when people were on their way to work, Belga journalist Eric Vidal said from the scene.

Pictures showed people being taken from the crash site by stretcher as snow fell.

Passengers who were not hurt in the crash were taken away by bus, according to Vidal.

He said people had come to the station to try to find family members who may have been involved in the crash.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme is on his way back from Kosovo, Albania, and would visit the scene of the crash, his office said. The Justice Ministry is in charge of the investigation, Leterme's office added.

The crash caused disruption to parts of the wider rail network in northern Europe.

Eurostar suspended high-speed train services between London, England, and Brussels, Belgium, the company announced, and did not expect the trains to run for the rest of the day. London-to-Paris services were not affected, the company said, but there were delays on the service to Lille in northern France close to the border with Belgium.

Thalys, which operates high-speed trains across much of northern Europe, announced that services were fully suspended all day, affecting travel to Brussels from Paris, France; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Cologne, Germany.

The company urged passengers planning to travel this week to check its Web site, www.thalys.com, before starting their trips.

The French high-speed train operator TGV Europe announced that its Brussels-bound services were going only as far as Lille.

Eight people died in a train crash in Belgium in March 2001, media reports said at the time, calling it the worst rail accident in the country in 25 years. Investigators later suggested the two trains collided because of confusion between a French-speaking signalman and a Flemish-speaking one.

Belgium is divided between speakers of the two languages.

Monday's crash is one of the deadliest train accidents in Europe since at least 41 people were killed in the Balkan nation of Montenegro in 2006. At least 180 passengers also were injured when a train derailed and plunged down an embankment outside the capital, Podgorica.

CNN's Jessica Hartogs, Cristina Lynch, Claudia Rebaza, Nick Hunt and Abey Benga contributed to this report.

 
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