ROME – A rail car filled with liquefied natural gas exploded when a freight train derailed in the middle of a small Italian town, setting off an inferno that killed at least 10 people and injured 50 others, officials said Tuesday.
The rear of the train plowed into a residential neighborhood just outside the rail station in the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio, and the resulting explosion collapsed at least two buildings and set fire to a vast area.
Seven people, including a child, were killed at home by the collapses or the fire, said Raffaele Gargiulo, a police spokesman in the nearby city of Lucca, which is in charge of the smaller town of Viareggio.
Two drivers who were on the road alongside the tracks when the train derailed were killed. The 10th victim, a young man, died in the hospital, Gargiulo said.
"The condition of the bodies is such that it will be very difficult to identify them," he said.
Lucca's top government official, Prefect Carmelo Aronica, told Italy's RAI state TV that at least 50 people were injured, 35 of whom were hospitalized with severe burns. The ANSA news agency reported that three children were pulled alive from the rubble of their collapsed home shortly before daybreak Tuesday.
Videos uploaded on YouTube showed a huge plume of fire and smoke towering above Viareggio's low houses. Images from the scene showed an inferno raging in the night, consuming buildings and cars, while the sound of sirens and explosions pierced the air.
"It's an impressive scene, there are dozens and dozens of cars hit by the shock wave and collapsed houses," said firefighters spokesman Luca Cari.
The 14-car train carrying the liquefied gas was traveling from the northern city of La Spezia to Pisa. The train derailed just before midnight Monday shortly after passing through Viareggio's train station, Gargiulo said.
The train's two engineers were only lightly injured and were questioned in the hospital, saying they felt an impact some 650 feet (200 meters) outside the station, shortly before the rear of the train flew off the tracks, Gargiulo said.
He told The Associated Press by telephone that the incident may have been caused by damage to the tracks or a problem with the train's braking system.
Firefighters chief Antonio Gambardella told RAI that the blaze was being contained but there was still the risk that the other gas tanks would explode. Hazardous materials teams specialized in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical threats were being brought in to help.
Some 300 firefighters were battling flames while digging through the rubble of collapsed or burnt homes looking for casualties, Gambardella said, adding that there could be more victims.