Saint-Georges-sur-Meuse (Belgium) (AFP) - Investigators on Monday sifted through the wreckage of a high-speed train crash in Belgium that killed three people and injured nine others with indications bad weather could have been the cause.
The collision occurred late on Sunday when the fast-moving passenger train slammed into the back of a slow freight train which was travelling on the same track for unknown reasons. The crash happened at Hermalle-sous-Huy, near the eastern town of Liege.
Authorities said lightning and flood damage caused by the heavy storms that have affected western Europe over the past week were being explored as a possible cause of the crash.
King Philippe of Belgium and Prime Minister Charles Michel both visited the scene to inspect the recovery work and offer their condolences, according to AFP reporters at the site.
"All my condolences for the families of the victims... and a fast recovery to the injured," Michel said on Twitter.
Although investigators were hard at work, finding the cause "would be difficult", warned a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in Liege.
"The passenger train is really in a bad way, it's stunning," said Francis Dejon, mayor of the municipality of Saint-Georges-sur-Meuse, where the crash took place.
"The front carriage is scrunched back up on itself. We were very lucky not to have more victims," he told the Belgian news agency Belga.
There were roughly 40 passengers on board the train that was travelling at about 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour at the moment of the collision on the Namur-Liege line at 11pm (2100 GMT) on Sunday.
Investigators believe the freight train was travelling at about 10-15kph at the time, said Brigitte Leroy, a spokeswoman from the prosecutor's office.
The crash killed the driver of the passenger train, authorities said. Of the nine injured, some were in critical condition, they added.
- 'Very violent' -
"Two of the six carriages derailed and are lying on the tracks," the Infrabel railway infrastructure company and the National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB) said in a joint statement.
Witnesses told Belga news agency the collision had been "very violent," with rescuers having to extract several passengers from the wreckage.
Infrabel spokesman Frederic Sacre said investigators would look carefully at a report of lightning on the tracks some 90 minutes before the crash.
On Sunday evening, SNCB said lightning had caused signal problems near the site, but that the incident was over.
"The investigation will tell us if there is a link with the recent storms," said Leroy, of the prosecutors office. "There was a lot of rain yesterday (Sunday), other train lines were completely flooded," she said.
In 2008, there was crash at almost the exact same location in which 42 people were injured. That incident was later blamed on human error and a power failure.
In February 2010, 18 people were killed and 95 injured when two trains collided in a Brussels suburb in one of Europe's deadliest railway accidents of the past decade.
More recently, one person was killed and nearly 50 injured when a train carrying highly-toxic chemicals derailed and exploded near the city of Ghent in May 2013.