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Iran train explosion kills 200 people
Updated: 2004-02-18 18:12

Runaway train cars carrying fuel and industrial chemicals derailed in northeastern Iran on Wednesday, setting off explosions that killed more than 200 people, injured hundreds and destroyed five villages, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The freight train cars — hauling sulfur, fuel oil and other industrial chemicals — blew up outside the city of Neyshabur, 400 miles east of Tehran, the capital, IRNA reported.

Fifty-one freight cars were waiting at the Abu Muslim train station near Neyshabur when they were set in motion by "some vibrations," the agency reported without elaborating.

The train cars, picking up speed and moving without an engine or conductor, overturned when they reached Khayyam, the next stop, starting a blaze. It wasn't immediately clear how far they'd traveled.

Firefighters trying to put out the fire when the cars exploded were among the dead, IRNA said.

At least 300 people were injured. IRNA quoted local officials as saying most of the casualties were in five nearby villages that were destroyed.

"The scale of the devastation is very great, and the damage appears more than initially thought," said Vahid Bakechi, a senior official in Khorasan Province's Emergency Headquarters.

Iranian television showed footage of overturned, blazing wagons, with fire extending outside the tracks, toward the station and nearby homes. Dozens of people, some wearing face masks to protect themselves from the smoke, were seen walking around or putting out flames on the scene.

The cars were loaded with petrol, sulfur, fertilizers and cotton, IRNA said.

The villages of Dehnow and Hashemabad were among those reported damaged. It wasn't clear if they'd been destroyed or how severe damage was there.

IRNA said the blast was so powerful that windows were shattered six miles away.

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