Rescuers wearing headlamps worked through thick smoke, removing pieces of shattered metal from cars to search for trapped people. Others scoured the field with flashlights and checked under the wreckage. Several of the dead are believed to have been found in the restaurant area near the front of the passenger train.

Hospital officials in the nearby city of Larissa said at least 25 of the injured had serious injuries.

«The evacuation process is continuing and is taking place in very difficult conditions due to the severity of the collision between the two trains,» said Vassilis Varthakoyiannis, a spokesman for Greece’s firefighting service.

The possible cause of the collision was not immediately clear. The police were questioning two railway officials, but they had not been arrested.

Passengers who suffered minor injuries or were uninjured were transported by bus to Thessaloniki, 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north. Police took their names as they arrived in an effort to track down anyone who might be missing.

A teenage survivor who did not give his name told reporters that just before the crash he felt hard braking and saw sparks and then there was a sudden stop.

“Our wagon didn’t derail, but the ones ahead did and were wrecked,” he said, visibly shaken.

He added that the first car caught fire and that he used a bag to break the window of his car, the room, and escape.

Rail operator Hellenic Train said the northbound passenger train from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, had around 350 passengers on board.

Agorastos described the collision on state television as «very powerful» and said it was «a terrible night.»

“The forward section of the train was destroyed. … We are bringing in special cranes and lifting equipment to clear the rubble and lift the wagons. There is debris scattered all over the crash site.

Authorities said the military had been contacted to help.

Hellenic Train, which has added high-speed services in recent years, is operated by Italy’s FS Group, which operates rail services in several European countries.