10 killed in Belgian train crash, official says

At least 10 people died and 11 were hurt when two trains collided in Belgium Monday, a government spokesman told CNN, adding that the numbers may not be final.

The mayor of Halle, the town where the collision took place, Dirk Pieters, earlier said 20 had died, Belgium’s official news agency reported.

The trains collided head-on at 8:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET), the companies that run the Belgian railways and the train said in a statement.

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

The Belgian government spokesman who reported the death toll, Bart Ouvry, said it was snowing at the time of the crash, but not an unusual amount.

People were thrown against the walls of the trains by the impact, said Emily Divinagracia, whose husband Stephan Riviere was a passenger on one of them, she told CNN.

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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 in Halle, the Belga news agency reported.

The crash took place during morning rush hour when people were on their way to work, Belga journalist Eric Vidal told CNN 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 and should at the scene of the crash soon, his office told CNN. The Justice Ministry is in charge of the investigation, Leterme’s office added.

The crash has 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 expected them to remain so for the rest of the day. London-to-Paris services are not affected, the company added, while 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 until mid-afternoon, impacting travel to Brussels from Paris as well from Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Cologne, Germany. Local trains were also suspended, it said.

TGV Europe announced that its Brussels-bound services were only going as far as Lille.

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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 additional passengers were injured when a train derailed and plunged down an embankment outside the capital Podgorica.

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