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More than 200 die in Iran train blast
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-19 00:31

Runaway train cars carrying fuel, fertilizer and industrial chemicals derailed and exploded in northeastern Iran on Wednesday, killing more than 200 people, injuring hundreds more and devastating five nearby villages, the government news agency said.

Television footage shows firefighters working to extinguish the fire left by deadly train car explosions in northeast Iran February 18, 2004. [Reuters]
Most of the known dead were fire and rescue workers, who died in the blast hours after the train cars derailed and caught fire.

Homes, largely small mud houses, collapsed from the force of the explosion in villages near the train tracks. Windows were broken within six miles of the blast.

Officials in the city of Neyshabur — including the local governor, mayor and fire chief — were among the dead, along with 182 emergency workers. At least 400 people were reported injured.

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

The 51 freight train cars — hauling sulfur, fuel oil and other industrial chemicals — caught fire and blew up outside Neyshabur, 400 miles east of Tehran, IRNA reported.

"The whole city is shocked by this accident. Official vehicles mounted with loudspeakers are roaming the city, calling for volunteers to donate blood," Saeed Kaviani, editor of the local Sobh-e-Neyshabur newspaper, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Dozens of people remain buried under the rubble of their homes in the villages, Kaviani said.

The freight cars were waiting at the Abu Muslim train station near Neyshabur when they were set in motion by "some vibrations." It wasn't clear what the vibrations were, though Neyshabur is in a region prone to earthquakes.

The U.S. Geological Survey (news - web sites) in Golden, Colo., said it had recorded no earthquake activity in the region.

According to Mohammad Maqdouri, head of the local emergency operations headquarters, the cars rolled out of the station at 4 a.m.

The train cars, picking up speed and moving without an engine or anyone in control, overturned when they reached Khayyam, the next stop, starting a blaze.

Maqdouri, speaking on Tehran television, said the cars exploded at 9:37 a.m., while firefighters were working at the scene.

Maqdouri said 182 firefighters and rescue workers were among the dead. Earlier reports on Iranian radio had quoted him as saying 50 to 60 people had died in the blast.

Bakechi said more than 400 people were injured. Blood supplies were rushed to the scene and Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards closed off the surrounding area fearing more explosions.

Governor Mojtaba Farahmand-Nekou, the city's top political leader, was among the dead, IRNA reported, quoting unidentified officials at the Khorassan Province governor-general's office. The report said the head of the city's energy department also was killed and that the director-general of the provincial railways was missing.

IRNA quoted local officials as saying most of the casualties were in five nearby villages that were "severely damaged."

Iranian television showed video tape of overturned, blazing wagons, with fire engulfing the area beyond the railroad and nearby homes. Dozens of people, some wearing face masks to protect them from smoke, were seen walking around or trying to put out fires.

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.

Neyshabur has a population of about 170,000, and is at the center of a region that grows cotton, fruit and grain. Other industries include carpets, pottery, leather goods and turquoise.

It became one of Persia's foremost cities in the 400 A.D., a center of culture with several important colleges. Omar Khayyam, the famous 11th century Persian poet, was born in Neyshabur and is buried there.

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