16 die in fireball as runaway train's gas explodes

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The Independent Online

Sixteen people died and at least 36 were injured in a huge fireball yesterday after nine runaway train cars, six carrying liquefied gas, derailed at a railway station south of the capital, Nairobi.

Sixteen people died and at least 36 were injured in a huge fireball yesterday after nine runaway train cars, six carrying liquefied gas, derailed at a railway station south of the capital, Nairobi.

Thirteen of the dead were railway employees or their families who lived in homes inside Athi River station's grounds. They were asleep when the cars exploded around midnight. The other three killed were in nearby slums.

Hospital officials said some of the injured suffered severe burns. "They looked like ashes," said Richard Njiru, an ambulance driver.

There were some 30 houses around the station, many now reduced to charred rubble. "There was liquid fire in the air which was dropping like it was raining fire," said Anthony Chira, whose house was 50 yards from the crash. "I thank God for being alive because some people were burnt beyond recognition. People were running and shouting with fire on their heads."

Mr Chira said he was woken by the "feel of heat". He saw fire everywhere and heard explosions "again and again". Two of the three rooms in the home which he shares with his wife, three children and a railway employee, were burnt out.

More than 16 hours after the crash, houses and carriages were smouldering. The mangled carriages were spread across six lines of track, and trees and grass within a 100-yard radius were scorched.

The accident was caused by train cars reversing down the track out of control after being detached from a freight train. Police and railway officials said the cars were detached at a station a few miles from Athi River as the train headed toward Nairobi from Mombasa.

"They call it runaways, but maybe something else went wrong," said Esther Otieno, deputy operations director at the station.

Another rail official said there had been a problem with the train's pulling power so the nine wagons were detached to reduce its load. "It was not expected they would roll back."

Kenya has suffered a series of deadly train derailments in the last year. Seven passengers died and 38 were injured Wednesday after a train went off the tracks in western Kenya. Last year, 32 people were killed when a passenger train derailed on the same line as the Athi River train. (AP)

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