One dead in toxic Belgian train fire

AFP-JIJI

One person died and 17 others were injured Saturday when a train carrying highly toxic chemicals derailed in Belgium, causing a major fire near the city of Ghent, local officials said.

Jan Briers, governor of eastern Flanders, had earlier said there were two dead and 14 injured, but late Saturday authorities announced that 17 injured people had been hospitalized and officials were investigating the cause of one fatality.

The accident and blaze also prompted authorities to evacuate nearly 300 people from their homes.

The victims were people living well away from the scene of the accident, and Interior Minister Joelle Milquet blamed toxic fumes from the highly flammable liquid chemicals.

The accident happened around 2 a.m. between the towns of Schellebelle and Wetteren, said Infrabel, the entity responsible for the Belgian railway network.

Six of the train’s 13 cars derailed and two had fallen over onto their sides.

The blaze led to a series of explosions in the railway cars, then a spectacular strip of fire spread over hundreds of meters, prompting authorities to evacuate residents living within 500 meters of the site of the accident.

Milquet said toxic fumes reached much farther, via the drainage system. “There are two problems,” she said. “There are the cars that derailed with this chemical product and which are ablaze. So there, there is a problem of poisoning linked to the smoke. The fire is under control but it will burn a while longer.”

Firefighters decided to let the cars burn out in a controlled manner, as water could have released further toxic chemicals.

The causes of the accident remained unclear. The cars derailed as the train changed tracks, and observers said it might have been traveling too fast.