'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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition