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7 Die in Norway Train Collision

January 4, 2000

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Two passenger trains collided Tuesday, killing at least seven people, leaving 26 missing and sparking a fire that hampered rescue efforts.

The fire burned for almost four hours, sending smoke billowing above the snow and pine trees that surrounded the wreck, 110 miles north of Oslo, before it was put out by firefighters.

Elverum Police Chief Per Erik Skjefstad said rescue efforts were suspended after a seven-hour search and would resume at daylight. He said seven people were confirmed dead and 26 were missing.

``What we don’t know is whether some just left″ the crash scene for a nearby train station, Skjefstad said in telephone interview. ``That is what we are trying to check.″

The national news agency NTB reported that dozens of people were injured.

The two trains carrying a total of 100 people collided around 1:30 p.m. at the Aasta Station in Aamot township, near the town of Rena. One train was headed south from the city of Trondheim carrying 81 passengers and two crew, while the other was headed north from the city of Hamar with 15 passengers and two crew.

Authorities refused to speculate on the total number of fatalities. With the injured being sent to different hospitals and some uninjured passengers simply leaving the crash scene, it could take some time for police to account for all the passengers.

``This is a terrible tragedy,″ Osmund Ueland, the chief executive of the Norwegian state railroad, told a news conference in Oslo. ``Three of our crew are missing,″ including two engineers, he said.

The two trains were on the same track at the time of the collision and news reports said they had traveled that way for several miles. However, officials said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash.

National Railways Director Steinar Killi said the section of track where the collision occurred had been due for a safety upgrade.

``Next year we will have an automatic train stop system there that we unfortunately didn’t have today,″ he told a news conference in Oslo.

Witnesses and rescuers described calm after the crash, followed by chaos as flames spread through at least one of the trains.

``I thought we stopped for a moose,″ said passenger Jeanette Haug. ``People said there was fire and we had to get out. But it was calm and I think people did well.″

At least one locomotive overturned, flames could be seen shooting out of the windows of at least one passenger car and some cars were reported to have slid down an embankment.

``We didn’t get any warning that anything was wrong before the crash,″ passenger Robert Ulriksen said on Norway’s state radio NRK. ``I flew forward and hit my knees pretty hard on the seat in front. I picked myself up and realized it was pretty serious because the car was leaning and on its side.″

He said those on board tried to help each other.

``We got those who were the least injured out,″ he said. ``Passengers and baggage were strewn all across the middle corridor. It looked worse in the car behind.″

It was the second serious public transport accident in Norway in just over a month. On Nov. 26, 16 people drowned when a high-speed ferry ran aground and sank.

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