Two commuter trains collided at rush hour in a Brussels suburb today, killing at least 18 people and injuring at least 80 others, some very seriously, according to the latest toll provided by Belgian rail officials. There were between 250 and 300 passengers riding on the two trains.
The trains collided in light snow just outside the station at Buizingen, about 11 miles southwest of Brussels, at around 8:30 a.m local time.
"This is a national tragedy," Rudy Demotte, vice president of the Wallonia region of Belgium, told RTBF TV.
Television pictures showed the two trains crushed against each other, with two cars of each train up in the air, off the tracks. Other pictures showed another car that appeared to have tipped onto its side. Rescuers rushed victims on stretchers along the tracks. Survivors in shock, some with bruises and limping, were shown walking off the crash site with the help of others.
"I was in the first car. I don't know what happened. We heard a big explosion, people, belongings and seats went upside down. … I was very lucky" a woman told Belgium TV.
A man said, "It's like living through a nightmare. We were talking with friends, and all of sudden, it happened."
Another man, interviewed by Belgium TV: "The sight was horrible. There was a person who had been ejected (from the train) and who was lying on the tracks, under debris."
Injured passengers were taken to 14 different hospitals in the area. Some lightly injured were moved to a Buizingen sports complex.
The crash caused massive damage to overhead power lines. Eurostar train service between Brussels and London was suspended for the day. The international high-speed network Thalys linking Brussels with Paris and Amsterdam halted its traffic because its trains use the same rails as commuter lines near the crash site.
An investigation into the cause of the crash has been launched.
"The train coming from Louvin and heading toward Braine le Comte collided with the side of the first car of the second train coming from Quevraim and heading towards Liege" Lodewijk De Witte, governor of the Brabant Flamand province, said at a news conference after the accident. "There were two tracks crossing and one of the trains apparently did not quite follow the instructions … and probably ran a red light."
The Prime Minister of Belgium, Yves Leterme, and Belgian King Albert II visited the crash site this afternoon.
"This is a terrible day for Belgium," said Leterme.
It was the most serious Belgian train crash since March 28, 2001, when eight people died.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.