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At least 16 killed in Italian train blast

AT least 16 people were killed and 50 injured overnight in northern Italy when a freight train hauling liquefied petroleum gas derailed and triggered a mass explosion as it passed their homes, officials said yesterday.

About 1,000 people were evacuated following the blast just before midnight on Monday in the Tuscan seaside town of Viareggio, about 350 kilometers north of Rome.

Thirty-seven people were seriously injured, with 15 of them listed in a critical condition, including a 2-year-old who was badly burned and was transferred to a hospital in Florence, rescue workers said.

Three children were among the dead. It was Italy's most deadly rail accident since 17 people were killed in January 2005 when a passenger train collided with a freight train near the northern city of Bologna.

"The emergency and danger are not over ... the area has been sealed off and search and rescue operations are ongoing," said Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's civil protection agency.

"We have a convoy with four train wagons that are still carrying liquefied petroleum and are off the tracks, on their sides, so the area is still at a really high risk level because the fire is still smouldering."

Firefighters battled overnight to contain blazes started by the explosion, which spread to nearby buildings and set cars alight. The area around the tracks was blackened and rescuers struggled to pull survivors from collapsed homes.

Viareggio Mayor Luca Lunardini said three or four people could still be buried under the rubble.

GATX Rail Austria, a unit of the United States-based GATX Corp, which owns the rail cars - each one consisting of a gas tank attached to a wagon - said it did not know the cause of the explosion and was still collecting data.

"So far we do not see any connection between the cause of the accident and our wagons," it said in a statement.

Rail workers will hold a strike across Tuscany today to demand better safety. Their union said an axle on a wagon appeared to have buckled, making it derail.


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