VIAREGGIO – A freight train carrying liquefied petroleum gas left the tracks near Viareggio station last night causing a disastrous explosion. The toll is tragically high with 15 dead, 30 missing and about 50 injured, 36 of whom are in a serious or very serious condition. The accident, which took place at midnight, triggered a blast that engulfed nearby buildings, some of which collapsed. A note from the state-owned railway company says that the accident was caused by failure of one of the bogies on a leading tank wagon. The victims include two children, whose bodies have already been recovered, several passers-by in the street that runs alongside the tracks, and residents of two buildings that collapsed. There is visible damage to other buildings in the area. One thousand people have been evacuated from their homes.
DIGGING – The total of 15 victims is still provisional and it is feared that rubble from the two buildings destroyed by the gas explosion and subsequent fire may conceal further casualties. The search continues as rescuers dig through the debris. Luca Lunardini, the mayor of Viareggio, said that 30 people have yet to be accounted for. Meanwhile, work goes on to make the other LPG-filled tanks safe. A gas leak from just one tank was responsible for the disaster. The train’s other 13 carriages are on the track of the La Spezia-Pisa rail line a few hundred metres outside Viareggio station. Fire service engineers will now have to empty the tanks and transport the contents safely elsewhere. It looks as if the operation will be lengthy and challenging but it should not involve any particular risks. Train services will be subject to cancellations and delays.
HOSPITAL – For some hours, friends, relatives and acquaintances have been arriving at the accident and emergency unit at Viareggio’s Versilia hospital, which is now the hub of the crisis. Nine of the dead have yet to be identified and several of the many injured victims are also unnamed. Non-Italians mingle with locals in the A&E waiting room, all anxious for news of friends and relatives. Among the injured are two children. One is seriously injured and has been admitted to the Meyer paediatric hospital in Florence with extensive burns. The other child is now in the Bambin Gesů hospital in Rome. The injured, many suffering from burns, have been sent to hospitals in Pisa, Massa Carrara, Florence, Parma, Rome and Genoa.
EVACUEES – About 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes after the explosion. Mayor Lunardini made the announcement, adding that 200 had been given shelter at an assistance centre set up in the town hall. “Five field tents with space for a hundred people have been set up in the square in front of the town hall. A similar number spent the night inside the town hall”. Mr Lunardini said that two buildings had collapsed and “another four or five have been affected by the blast although they did not actually collapse. The remaining people were evacuated for reasons of safety. We’ll be looking to find arrangements with hoteliers in Versilia to put them up”.
INQUEST – The Lucca public prosecutor’s office is investigating the accident. Speaking to the press, police chief Maurizio Manzo and prefect Carmelo Aronica explained that magistrates will be seeking to throw light on the causes of the accident, adding that the public prosecutor’s office is collating reports from the fire service and police forces.
BERLUSCONI – The prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was kept constantly informed about the rail disaster by the junior minister for the Prime Minister’s Office, Paolo Bonaiuti, and the head of the civil protection agency, Guido Bertolaso. Italy’s minister of transport, Altero Matteoli, has also appointed a commission of inquiry. The news was announced by the ministry press office, which said that officials from the rail safety agency were at the site of the disaster to make preliminary investigations.
SITE INSPECTION – Mr Bertolaso arrived in Viareggio to inspect the area affected by the explosion with local officials. The head of the civil protection agency remained in contact throughout the night with the prefect of Lucca and top railway executives.