Nishapur train disaster
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The Nishapur train disaster was a large explosion in the village of Khayyam, near Nishapur in Iran, on 18 February 2004. Over 300 people were killed and the entire village destroyed, when runaway train wagons crashed into the community in the middle of the night and exploded.
Beginning of incident
The incident began in the city of Nishapur, where 51 railway wagons carrying sulphur, fertiliser, petrol and cotton wool broke loose from their siding at Abu Muslim Station, and rolled down the track for about twenty kilometers, until they derailed and rolled down an embankment into the town of Khayyam. There was nobody manning the wagons, or on board at the time of the crash, but local rescue services from all the neighbouring towns arrived to rescue anybody who might have been trapped inside, and to extinguish several minor fires which had broken out in the wreckage.
The substances in the wagons were all highly explosive or flammable (although the Iranian railway authority had not classed any of them as "dangerous" before the incident), and had leaked following the crash. As the small fires spread, a large crowd of local people, including several local politicians and senior railway officials gathered to watch the emergency operation.
During the cleanup operation, the cargo of the wagons exploded, reportedly the equivalent of 180 tons of TNT, which demolished Khayyam, badly damaged the nearby towns of `Eyshabad, Dehnow, Nishapur and Taqiabad, Nishapur, and could be felt in the city of Mashhad, 70 kilometers away. The entire village was destroyed, and all of the local emergency services and government personnel were killed or seriously injured in the blast. The wreckage of the train and village continued to burn and explode for several days, despite the freezing cold weather.
The total death toll is not known. State authorities identified 295 confirmed killed and over 460 injured, including 182 rescue workers and state officials.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Following the blast, troops from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were called in and were able to maintain security, whilst hundreds of rescue workers were brought in to help with the injured, the trapped, the missing and the dead. Four villages were later described as "totally destroyed"
Initial reports that "earth tremors" started the wagons rolling have since been discredited, and a thorough investigation has so far failed to discover how exactly the wagons were able to travel from Nishapur to Khayyam on their own, why so many highly flammable cargoes were stored and transported together, and why the details of the crash weren't discovered sooner, perhaps in time to arrange an evacuation. A statement from the Iranian Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram shortly after the incident reported that natural causes could not have caused the disaster, and that an investigation was under way to determine whether it was incompetence or malice by railway staff that allowed the wagons to come loose from where they were parked.
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- Soham rail disaster - a 1944 fire and subsequent explosion of an ammunition train near Soham, England.
- BBC Report on Aftermath
- Immediate Iranian statement
- Guardian News Report
- China Daily News Report
- MSNBC News Report
- (Persian) People responsible for Nishapur train disaster announced by court