Landslide causes train derailment in Italy; nine dead

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

At least nine people have died in northern Italy after a landslide caused the derailment of a passenger train. A further 25 people were injured, according to emergency services.

The incident occurred earlier this morning near the border with Austria, in a mountainous region near Merano, a city around 300 kilometres north of Venice.

"There are nine confirmed victims, while 28 people have been injured, seven of them seriously," reported the governor of the Bolzano-Bozen province, Luis Durnwalder, to the Reuters news service. Initially, eleven people were reported dead, due to what the governor described as a "counting error". However, he noted that "there could still be someone buried in the mud", so the death count is not yet final.

According to the ANSA news agency, the train had about forty passengers on board when it derailed. Sky TV, meanwhile, quoted officials as saying that three people are reported to be missing. The authorities say the landslide was due to a broken irrigation pipe, which caused rocks to fall onto the tracks below. Authorities say they are looking into why the pipe burst.

The trains front car hit two trees upon derailment, local media says, which prevented it from dropping off into a river below. The carriage, however, was hanging over the river, and firefighters had to use cables to stop it from falling any more. A crane was also dispatched the scene to help clean up debris, ANSA reported.

"The train is hanging off the rails about five meters from the river. It is now only a few trees that are holding up the train and preventing it falling into the river," said a witness, Alex Rowbotham, to the BBC.

"[...] The landslide occurred at the very passage of the train. It hit the train," said Thomas Widmann, a transport official for the city of Bolanzo.

The crash was the deadliest in Europe since February, when eighteen people died after two commuter trains ran into each other near Brussels, Belgium. Italy saw its worse rail crash two decades ago, when 29 people died following the derailment of a freight train carrying petroleum gas, resulting in several explosions.


Sources

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