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Thirty Dead, Hundreds Injured or Missing in London Wreck

By Marjorie Miller
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- READING, England

Among the bouquets of fresh flowers laid at the entrance to Reading’s central train station on Thursday, a sign beseeched: “Daddy Come Home. I love you. Claire.”

Whether or not Claire’s daddy survived what may turn out to be Britain’s worst-ever rail crash, Reading woke up to the reality that as many as 50 of its fathers, mothers and other family members who took an express train to London two day before might never come home.

Thirty people are confirmed dead and 127 are listed as missing in the fiery crash that incinerated rail cars. Another 150 passengers were injured in the rush-hour collision, many of them suffering serious burns.

The residents of Reading braced themselves to find out how many of the victims were theirs, fully expecting to be the community hardest hit by what has become a national tragedy.

One clue to how many local commuters boarded the ill-fated train to London’s Paddington Station on Tuesday could be found in the station’s parking lot, where dozens of cars remained unclaimed.

At the rail station on Thursday, men and women awaited their trains nervously and sought out rear cars, such as those that had fared the best in Tuesday’s crash. Passengers on board trains to and from London soaked up newspapers filled with stories about the accident.

In town, there was a sense of foreboding, grief and guilt. Some pubs closed and flags flew at half staff. The uncertainty was agony for many; others feared that the facts would ultimately prove to be even more painful.

“By the end of this, it is likely that everyone will know someone who will have been injured or killed,” said the Right Rev. Dominic Walker, the Anglican bishop of Reading. “And the worst thing is that for many there won’t be any bodies. It will be very difficult to mourn without a body.”

Many families of the dead and missing huddled with grief counselors in Reading’s Town Hall and in a bunker-like conference hall at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel to wait for information. Police kept the media well away from them.

Late in the day, police escorted dozens of grieving relatives to the crash site to see the horror for themselves. They laid flowers, hugged and wept over the mangled rail cars.

Emergency crews set up a crane capable of lifting 100 tons and began to erect scaffolding around the wreckage so that forensics teams and investigators could get inside.

Forensics experts said it could be days and even weeks before they are able to identify all of the bodies, some of which were burned to ash.

Rail officials have said that the crash occurred when the rookie driver of an outbound Thames Trains service went through a red danger signal and crossed onto the track of the incoming First Great Western Train.