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Brussels train smash: ‘We were knocked down like ninepins”

HALLE – The woman, apparently physically uninjured apart from a bruise on her head, was one of the lucky ones. The Monday morning collision of two commuter trains near the Brussels suburb of Halle left 18 dead and counting.

She stares around her, as if seeking some quick exit out of the mayhem.

She was "very lucky" she tells a local television reporter.

The surrounding area is one of total devastation, with mangled wreckage and carriages ripped open and lying on their sides.

The front portions of the two red and white trains, which were packed with up to 300 commuters, telescoped together and reared up into the air over the snow-covered tracks.

Gaetan, a 36-year-old psychiatric nurse, makes the daily journey between Mons, on the border with France, and a clinic in Brussels.

"We were travelling peacefully when, without warning, no horn or sound of braking, there was this terrible shock," he says.

"I was lucky because I saw many people injured in my compartment. There were dead bodies not far away," he adds, looking into the middle distance.

Gaeten, says that from his professional experience the traumatised victims and the bereaved would need psychological treatment.

Sylvie, a women in her forties, was also making the journey from Mons.

"The shock was terrifying, it knocked us down like ninepins," she tells AFP after emerging from the crash with her left arm in an improvised sling.

"I can’t complain," she adds, "I was lucky compared to the others."

She is gathered up in a tearful embrace by relatives who have rushed to the nearby sports stadium turned into a temporary crisis centre where many have been brought for first aid before being sent on to hospital if necessary.

Several passengers are said to be in a serious condition.

Meanwhile the emergency services continue the grim task of pulling out bodies, with the final death toll unknown.