June 30, 2009 / 12:26 AM / 10 years ago

Italy gas train derails and explodes, killing 14

VIAREGGIO, Italy (Reuters) - At least 14 people were killed and dozens injured overnight in Italy when a freight train hauling liquefied petroleum gas derailed and exploded as it passed their homes, officials said on Tuesday.

Rescue workers check a rail tanker car lying on its side after a derailment and explosion in Viareggio, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Rome June 30, 2009. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

About 1,000 people were evacuated following the blast just before midnight on Monday in the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Rome.

More than 30 people were seriously injured, with many of them in critical condition with very severe burns. Three children were among the dead.

“We were going to bed when my daughter smelled gas and we heard the blasts,” said Roberta Marcelli. “We looked out from the terrace and we saw windows exploding, everything was exploding.”

“It was an apocalypse. All we could smell was gas and things burning and all we could see was flames,” one survivor told Italian television.

PEOPLE STILL MISSING

A body of a woman was found on Tuesday evening, bringing the death toll to 14.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a news conference that four people were still missing in the rubble of a building destroyed by the blast, adding that the toll could rise.

Many residents booed Berlusconi as he visited the scene.

Unions representing railway workers called a one-hour halt in train traffic on Wednesday to mourn the dead and draw attention to what they say are insufficient safety standards in the sector.

The accident happened when an axle on one car of the 14-car train buckled and caused the derailment, officials said.

Firefighters battled to contain blazes started by the explosion, which spread to nearby buildings and set cars alight. The area around the tracks was blackened and rescuers struggled to pull survivors from collapsed homes.

GATX Rail Austria, a unit of the U.S.-based GATX Corp, which owns the rail cars — each one consisting of a gas tank attached to a wagon — said it did not know the cause of the explosion and was still collecting information.

“So far we do not see any connection between the cause of the accident and our wagons,” it said in a statement.

It was Italy’s most deadly rail accident since 17 people were killed in January 2005, when a passenger train collided with a freight train near the northern city of Bologna.

Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Gavin Jones and Silvia Ognibene; Writing by Phil Stewart

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