295 Killed in Iran as Runaway Freight Train Explodes
A runaway freight train laden with an explosive mixture of fuel, fertilizers and sulfur came off the rails and blew up in north-eastern Iran yesterday, killing almost 300 people and injuring hundreds more. The explosion was reported to have destroyed five villages and windows were said to have shattered up to seven miles away. The dusty plain looked like a battlefield, with bodies scattered on the ground, their clothes ripped off by the blast. Such was its power that it was heard in the provincial capital of Mashhad, about 50 miles away.
Firemen tried to hose down the burning wreckage, which was strewn across the stricken plain set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Bystanders covered their faces to protect themselves from noxious fumes. Estimates for the number of dead in the disaster near the town of Nishapur, fluctuated wildly between 60 and more than 500. An official figure late last night put the number of dead at 295, with 400 injured. The dead included many firemen and local volunteers, in addition to senior officials among them the local governor, mayor and fire chief.
“The whole city is shocked by this accident. Official vehicles mounted with loudspeakers are roaming the city, calling for volunteers to donate blood,” said Saeed Kaviani, the editor of the Sobh-e-Neyshabur newspaper. The disaster is a further blow to Iran as it tries to recover from the devastation of last December’s earthquake in the city of Bam, where up to 45,000 people were killed.
Officials said the train, made up of 51 freight wagons, had been halted at the Abu Muslim railway station but suddenly started to move down the track. It is possible that it was set in motion by a small earthquake, or by an explosion caused by a fire in part of the train. As it picked up speed, without anyone to control it, it derailed and overturned near the station of Khayyam and ignited.
Firemen gathered around the debris to put out the flames, but at about 6 am local time there was an enormous blast. Many of the dead were among the emergency crews.
Irna, the state news agency, said five surrounding villages were destroyed. Three helicopters were sent to Khorassan province to help scores of ambulances to evacuate the wounded.
As investigators begin to look into the cause of the accident, questions are likely to be raised over why the train was loaded with such a combustible mixture of cargoes.
Fuel and fertilizers are often mixed to make home-made bombs.
By Behzad Farsian in Teheran and Anton La Guardia
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