Train carrying toxic chemicals derails in Belgium, leaving two dead and hundreds evacuated
BRUSSELS - Reuters
Aerial picture of an exploded freight train on a track near Schellebelle, 20 kms east of Gent on May 4. AFP photoTwo people died and 14 others were injured on May 4 when a train carrying highly toxic chemicals derailed in Belgium, causing a major fire near the city of Ghent, a local government official said.
Jan Briers, governor of eastern Flanders, gave the death toll to the Belga news agency after the accident and blaze 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 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 were on their side. The blaze led to a series of explosions in the railway cars, then a spectacular strip of fire spread over hundreds of metres prompting authorities to evacuate residents living within 500 metres of the site of the accident.
But 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.
"But there is also another reaction," the minister went on, "since some of the chemical product went into the drains and caused a kind of chemical reaction with gases that are toxic and escaped into certain streets beyond the perimeter that had already been evacuated due to the fire." 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 travelling too fast.
The train came from the Netherlands and was bound for Ghent's seaport Gent-Zeehaven. Train services between Schellebelle and Wetteren were disrupted and problems were expected for two days, with buses laid on to transport passengers.
Two similar accidents involving trains carrying tanks of toxic products occurred in Belgium in May 2012.