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Rescuers' Nightmare In Norway

It was a rescue worker's nightmare. Intense heat from the burning trains. Freezing cold of a Norwegian winter. Trapped, tortured victims almost within arm's reach yet impossible to save.

"The worst thing to experience is to stand there and watch people burn," said Ola Sunderaal, one of the first rescuers on the scene.

The head-on collision between two passenger trains on Tuesday was one of the worst in Norwegian history, with 20 believed dead. The exact number remained unclear a day after the crash because of uncertainly about precisely how many people -- about 100 -- were on board.

The high-speed crash was so savage that several railcars were compressed into a pile of metal the length of a single car. A 100-ton locomotive lay on its side, which rescuers hope to move Thursday.

Fires blazed for about six hours hampering initial rescue efforts. Five bodies were pulled from the wreckage before darkness fell Wednesday. Twelve in all have been recovered with at least four more bodies are on the train.

Police late Wednesday adjusted the number of missing and presumed dead to 4, from about 20 earlier in the day. They gave no reason for the downward revision, but said there was no hope of finding more survivors.

Of the 30 passengers and crew who were injured, 12 remained in the hospital, some with broken bones.

The accident happened at Rena, Norway, about 110 miles north of the capital Oslo.

On Wednesday, the high-pitched scream of cutting tools ripped through the forest silence and tangled wreckage of the trains to pry loose bodies, many burned beyond recognition. The process could take days to complete.

"It is very hard work because (the bodies) are so stuck in the wreckage." said Trond Simarud, a rescue specialist. "We have to work millimeter by millimeter (inch by inch) to get in there."

During the day, three busloads of friends and relatives of the dead and missing arrived to place flowers, light candles and seek solace. Young soldiers, many of whom had spent the freezing night in tents, cordoned off the wreck site.

Later, family members, some crying, joined rescue workers and police in uniform for memorial services in nearby churches, where torches burned outside in the darkness.

During the day, bulldozers, army tanks and workers felled tall pine trees to improve access to the wreckage.

The lingering stink of smoke from the burned-out wreckage was a pungent reminder of the chaos, terror and frustration of the previous day.

Sundervaal, an ambulance crewman, recalled he had entered wrecked cars trying to help. The fire drove him back.

"It was the worst thing I have experienced, going through the train seeing people who were alive and conscious who we couldn't help," he said.

An express train, with 83 people aboard, was headed south for the city of Trondheim. A local train, at first said to have 17 people aboardwas headed north. The state railroad NSB on Wednesday said that number was no longer certain.

The cause of the crash has not been determined. The trains raced at each other at about 55 mph around a corner. The engineers had no chance to stop, officials said.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report