Two rail tankers filled with gas exploded in a fireball after a derailment in the northern Italian city of Viareggio, engulfing nearby homes and killing at least 15 people, firefighters said today. 50 people were also injured in the accident, 35 of them described as serious or critical, many with burns to much of their bodies, according to the firefighters' coordination centre in Rome. The explosion happened just before midnight when one wagon in a 14-wagon train transporting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) came off the rails in the coastal city of 50,000 residents 20 kilometres northwest of Pisa.
"The cars flipped over on their sides on the rails and the gas spread out among the nearest houses before exploding," said Antonio Gambardella, commander of the firefighters at the scene. Small homes line the railway line, and dozens were damaged within a radius of 300 metres from the train. Two small buildings collapsed from the force of the explosion "and we fear there could be several more people under the rubble," Gambardella told AFP by telephone.
He said an eight-year-old boy had been pulled out alive. Areas near the station were evacuated in case of further explosions. "I heard the explosion and I went out into the street to find myself faced with flames and a motionless charred body lying on the ground," a witness told the Italian news agency ANSA. "It was a terrifying scene which I'll never be able to forget," added the witness, who works at a nearby pharmaceutical company.
Gambardella said 300 firefighters from neighbouring regions had been mobilised. "One of the tasks of the firefighters and notably the specialised chemical accident units is to try to make sure the rest of the tankers don't catch fire and explode," he added. The train was travelling toward Pisa. Liquefied petroleum gas is a mixture of propane and butane that is used for cooking or as fuel for specially-adapted cars. It is also used in refrigeration.