An Italian freight train carrying liquefied petroleum gas derailed just before midnight local time (23:00 BST), causing an explosion that engulfed several houses in the Tuscan coastal city of Viareggio, located to the northwest of Pisa in northern Italy. The freight train was en route from the port of La Spezia to its final destination in Pisa.
According to sources, 15 people have so far been killed by the explosion, with a further 50 injured. Italian officials said that 35 of those injured have been hospitalized with severe burns.
Reports said that the explosion occurred when one of the tankers in the 14-carriage train came off the rails just outside the station of the coastal city of around 50,000 people. The train’s two engineers, who both survived the incident, said that they felt an impact around 200 meters (650 feet) outside the station, shortly before the rear of the train derailed. A fire-fighter at the scene said that the train cars flipped over onto their sides on the rails, causing the leaked gas to spread out among the nearest houses before exploding. A number of fires immediately broke out in the area.
Witnesses at the scene of the incident reported that there were three explosions following the derailment — a violent initial blast followed by two others just afterwards. Reports said that dozens of homes were damaged by the explosion, with two small residential buildings completely engulfed by the flames and destroyed. It was reported that around 18 people were believed to have lived in one of the destroyed buildings. Although some people are known to have survived, there are fears that several more people could be trapped under the rubble. Sources say that the dead and injured were either passers-by or people that lived in the buildings destroyed by the blast. Many of the dead are yet to be identified.
According to reports, the region has declared a state of emergency, and the Italian Transport Minister is to set up a committee to investigate the causes of accident. Town officials said that 1,000 people were evacuated from the blast area as a precaution in case of further explosions. Tents were erected near the town hall to shelter people evacuated from their homes.
Sources said that around 300 firefighters from across the region were immediately rushed to the scene to help with the rescue operation and to contain the blaze. In addition to firefighters, teams specialized in dealing with nuclear, biological, and chemical threats were drafted in to prevent the other gas tanks from exploding.
Although the cause of the accident is not immediately known, reports say that the incident could have been caused by damage to the tracks or a problem with the train’s breaking system. Investigators are also looking into the possibility that the axle on one of the wagons broke, derailing the gas-filled container and resulting in the initial explosion.
Monday evening’s accident was reportedly the most serious witnessed in Italy since the collision of a freight and passenger train on January 7, 2005. This accident killed 17 people and injured a further 60 near the central Italian city of Bologna.
Sources: BBC News, CNN News, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Reuters News, Xinhua News Agency.
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