NEYSHABUR, Iran (AP) — Runaway train cars carrying a
lethal mix of fuel and chemicals derailed, caught fire and then
exploded hours later yesterday in northeast Iran, killing more than
200 people, injuring at least 400 and leaving dozens trapped
beneath crumbled mud homes.
Most of those reported dead were firefighters and rescue workers
who had extinguished most of the blaze outside Neyshabur, an
ancient city of 170,000 people in a farming region 400 miles east
of the capital, Tehran.
The dead also included top city officials — including
Neyshabur’s governor, mayor and fire chief as well as the
head of the energy department and the director-general of the
provincial railways — who had all gone to the site of the
derailment, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The explosion devastated five villages, where authorities rushed
in blood supplies and appealed through loudspeakers for donors.
Hardest hit was Hashemabad, where 41-year-old Zahra Rezaie, whose
mud home was near the tracks, was cooking lunch for her family when
she heard the explosion and felt the ground shake. Then the ceiling
“It knocked down and broke some dishes. I was sure it was
an earthquake, and my first thought was to rush to the school and
save my children,” Rezaie told The Associated Press. Her
children were safe.
An AP photographer who arrived in Dehnow, one of the most
severely damaged villages close to the train tracks some 500 yards
from the blast, said most of the village’s homes were
“The houses are all built of clay, and nearly every one
has been destroyed, like they had collapsed in an
earthquake,” Hassan Sarbakhshian said. “Everyone
appears to have been evacuated,” he said, adding he could see
thick, black smoke billowing about 500 yards ahead.
The blast was so powerful that windows were shattered as far as
six miles away. In an apparent indication of the explosion’s
force, Iranian seismologists recorded a 3.6-magnitude tremor in the
area, IRNA reported.
Many of the buildings that collapsed in a Dec. 26 earthquake in
Bam, in southeast Iran, also were mud-brick structures. That
tragedy killed more than 41,000 people.
Authorities were investigating what caused the 51 cars to roll
out of the Abu Muslim train station, outside Neyshabur, at 4 a.m.
Forty-eight of the cars derailed on reaching the next stop at
Khayyam, about 12 miles away, and caught fire.
Iranian TV showed black plumes of smoke and orange flames
billowing into the sky from the cars, 17 of which were loaded with
sulfur, six with gasoline, seven with fertilizer and 10 with
cotton. Dozens of people, some wearing face masks to protect
themselves from the smoke, were seen walking around or putting out
flames on the scene.