A passenger train and a truck collided a rail crossing in southern Australia on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people and injuring 24. But authorities said that death toll could rise since rescuers were still looking for three passengers still unaccounted for.
"The confirmed fatalities are now at least 11," Victoria state police spokeswoman Wendy Willingham said. Six critically hurt passengers were flown to hospitals in the state capital of Melbourne, and 18 others were treated for less serious injuries, Willingham said.
Emergency workers raced to the scene shortly after the early afternoon accident near the small farming town of Kerang in the state's northwest.
Rescuer Shane Leerson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. TV that no more survivors were expected to be found in the train, which was heading for Melbourne, about 280 kilometers (175 miles) to the southeast.
Willingham said the salvage operation had been scaled down until daylight Wednesday.
Police are still piecing together the circumstances behind one of the worst rail disasters in the state's history.
They say that flashing lights and warning bells were operating at the highway crossing when the semitrailer collided with the middle and last of three carriages being hauled by the diesel locomotive. There is no boom gate at the crossing.
"For some reason yet to be determined, the truck has not stopped and has run into the side of the train in the second and third carriage, tearing both of these carriages open," Acting Insp. Michael Talbot of the police Major Collision Investigation Unit told reporters at the scene.
The driver, who was alone in the truck, was among the seriously injured, police said.
A German tourist who identified herself only as Helena and who survived the accident uninjured told Seven Network television there were "a lot of people who lost legs and arms. It was just horrible."
Witnesses said the truck peeled open the second carriage, exposing the passengers inside, before separating the third carriage from the rest of the train and forcing it off the track.
"The initial shock was just everyone screaming because they thought the train was going to go over," Sue Fyffe, who survived the crash without injury, told Sky News.
Willingham said three of the 36 passengers on the train's manifest had not been accounted for, but police were not yet certain that they had been on the train.
Leerson said a motorist was killed at the same crossing a decade ago when she stopped to wait for a train to pass and was hit in the back by a truck.
Victoria Premier Steve Bracks said the crash would be investigated by a coroner and government rail authorities as well as police.