'Apocalypse' on railway in Tuscany

A freight train carrying liquid gas came off the tracks and exploded in the heart of an Italian seaside resort

The pretty, tree-lined streets of the Tuscan seaside resort of Viareggio would still have been busy just before midnight on Monday, when a freight train passing through derailed. Its cargo of liquid gas exploded, engulfing the town's station and surrounding homes in flames leaving at least 13 dead and dozens seriously injured.

Several people including a baby were incinerated; white blankets on the road would later mark the places where the blaze had consumed them. Dozens more suffered terrible burns.

Initial reports put the death toll at 16, but this was later revised down. The head of the civil protection agency, Guido Bertolaso, had said many people were still unaccounted for as 300 firefighters and hundreds of volunteers used their bare hands to dig under the rubble. Last night, 36 people were in critical conditions with serious burns.

Witnesses spoke of an "apocalyptic scene"; one man on a scooter was seen "burning like a torch". He fell with his helmet still on his head, "completely carbonised", next to the body of a woman. Five others were seen running in the street screaming, in flames. Emergency services moved to evacuate more than 1,000 people as the fire spread and several four-storey apartment blocks collapsed from the force of the initial explosion. Hundreds fled the area dressed only in night clothes.

It is believed at least one of the rear carriages of the train derailed at 50mph and exploded. "We saw a ball of fire rising up to the sky," said Gianfranco Bini, who lives in a building overlooking the station. "We heard three big rumbles, like bombs. It looked like war had broken out."

Federica Bertucelli, a student, said she heard three explosions. "When I went out into the street, the garden in the next house was in flames. I saw at least five people burning."

A four-year-old girl suffered burns to 90 per cent of her body and was rushed by helicopter to the Baby Jesus Paediatric Hospital in Rome.

One man desperate to save himself from the fire sweeping the upper floors of his building leapt on to a canopy with his son in his embrace. The eight-year-old suffered a minor cut; his father is in a critical condition.

Another witness said she found a burnt body in the street. "I heard the explosion and I went out into the street to find myself faced with flames and a motionless charred body lying on the ground," the witness told the Italian news agency Ansa. "It was a terrifying scene that I will never forget."

The train's other carriages, carrying tanks of the highly flammable gas, remained on the track of the La Spezia-Pisa rail line, a few hundred metres outside Viareggio station. Fire fighters were working to make these safe. Teams specialised in chemical and biological leaks were enlisted to handle the crisis.

Although people were still in the area when the accident happened, emergency workers expressed relief at the timing. "If this had happened in the afternoon, it would have been an utter human catastrophe. We need to thank God for that," one fireman said.

Most of the injured are being treated at Versilia hospital in Viareggio.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi travelled to the scene from Naples "to take charge" but he was greeted by boos and cries to "go home".

Mauro Moretti, a spokesman for the state railways system, said initial evidence suggested that human error was not to blame for the crash. Instead a broken axle on one of the trains caused it to derail and fall into the path of the other oncoming train, he said.

Investigations are under way. Guglielmo Epifani, the general secretary of the Cgil public sector union, said the decrepit state of the rolling stock meant the Viareggio disaster was "a tragedy waiting to happen".

The Italian railways have a reputation for unreliability and ancient rolling stock. Despite rising fares, crowded carriages and cancellations have made headlines this year. Users of rail services between Genoa and Rome were yesterday bracing themselves for massive disruption.

Residents displaced by the explosion were being put up in tents surrounding Viareggio's town hall or in local hotels and campsites, the town's Mayor, Luca Lunardini, said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
food + drinkClue: You'll either love them or you'll hate them
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project