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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Village mourns lost generation
Wrecked bus
The lorry's cargo sliced through the bus
A small Greek village was left in shock and mourning on Monday after 21 teenagers died in a horrific crash between their school bus and a timber lorry.

Only 3,000 people live in the northern farming village of Makrichori, where the church bells were tolling to signal the funerals of the first 11 victims.

"I don't know which funeral to go to first," said schoolteacher Costas Kokkaras. "It's devastating."

The crash also left more than 30 other people injured, some of them seriously.

It happened on a winding road in the Tembi Valley beneath Mount Olympus, near the town of Larissa in northern Greece.

That's the end. It crippled us. There's nothing left in the village now that all our children are gone
Village priest
The lorry's load of plywood came free in the crash and sliced into the bus, which was carrying children aged 14 to 16 home from a school trip to Athens.

The impact on the village of Makrichori was summed up by the local Orthodox priest.

"That's the end. It crippled us. There's nothing left in the village now that all our children are gone," he told journalists.

Those injured in the crash included another 24 teenagers, at least two of whom are said to be critically ill.

Authorities said it was the worst crash for about 30 years.

"The kids who are alive are still in shock," said Mr Kokkaras, who taught the 16-year-olds in the group. "I had to come here (to the hospital) to see them, talk to them, touch them. But everyone, including us, is in bad shape."

I express my grief and compassion, like all the Greek people, for the unfair loss of so many young children
Greek PM Costas Simitis
The Greek flag at the children's school was flying at half mast.

A day of mourning was declared across the local Imathia area, and schools were closed.

Teams of psychologists were being sent to the region to help those affected by the tragedy.

The road where the crash happened is part of a major six-lane road linking Athens to Thessaloniki, but it narrows to single lanes to wind through the Tempi Valley.

Rescue worker
Rescue workers found a scene of horror
Greece has one of Europe's poorest road safety records. Last year more than 1,650 people died in road accidents.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis promised a full inquiry into what he called a tragedy.

"I express my grief and compassion, like all the Greek people, for the unfair loss of so many young children, as well as my undivided support toward the families of all the victims," Mr Simitis said.

Police are investigating whether the lorry's cargo had been properly secured.

I got onto the wrong lane and crashed with the bus. The plywood sheets just slammed into the vehicle
Lorry driver
"It was like a razor chopping off half of the bus," said one rescue worker.

The driver, interviewed on Greek television, said he had lost control of his vehicle.

"I got onto the wrong lane and crashed with the bus," he said. "The plywood sheets just slammed into the vehicle."

Survivors described scenes of horror.

"There were dead bodies everywhere, there was blood everywhere," said one injured pupil.

The schoolchildren, who had been on a three-day trip, were less than an hour from the village when the crash happened.


SEE ALSO:
Greek crash kills 21 teenagers
14 Apr 03  |  Europe
Bus plunges off Greek road
23 Feb 03  |  Europe
Two killed in bus ambush
29 May 99  |  Europe



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