AT least seven people have been killed and around 30 are injured after a train derailed and containers of gas exploded in Bulgaria in the country’s worst rail accident in almost a decade.
More than 20 buildings in the village of Hitrino in north east Bulgaria - including the local railway station - were destroyed in the blast early yesterday morning as containers carrying liquefied petroleum gas exploded and sparked a major fire which spread to the village.
Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov warned that the death toll was likely to rise further as rescue workers searched the rubble. At least five of the injured are said to be in a critical condition.
Officials evacuated the entire village of 1,000 people yesterday afternoon, amid fears of further casualties as experts worked to stabilise the cannisters.
Nikolay Nikolov, head of the country’s firefighting department, said: “Basically everything around the perimeter of the blast was destroyed, including the regional police station and the railway station. The destruction is considerable.”
Around 200 firefighters, rescue team members and police officers were on the scene yesterday, where workers from oil refinery Neftochim Bourgas had been brought in to carry out a risky operation to transfer gas out of the cannisters in a bid to prevent further explosions.
Eyewitnesses said they were woken by the blast, which took place at 5.40am, when most residents were asleep.
“At 5.40 we heard [what we thought was] thunder,” said one man. “Then we thought that it was an earthquake. I went out with my wife and children and saw the flames in the centre of the village.”
Local media reported that the cisterns - which were loaded with propylene liquefied petroleum gas and mounted on a cargo train travelling from from the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Bourgas to Romania - exploded as the train left the tracks near Hitrino, near Shoumen, while moving along the Ruse-Varna railway line.
Dr Atanas Atanasov, director of the hospital in Shoumen, told local radio station Darik Radio that the emergency department had received more than 20 people, many of them suffering from severe burns and fractures. The dead are believed to be aged between 20 and 50 years old.
“There are several people who are in very serious condition,” Dr Atanasov said.
The incident is believed to be the worst train accident in Bulgaria since 2008, when nine people burned to death in a sleeper car owned by the Bulgarian State Railways in the region of Dobrich.
Prime minister Mr Borisov arrived in the village yesterday morning. He has urged citizens to donate blood to address shortages at nearby hospitals.
“There will certainly be more victims,” he said. “It will take at least 48 hours to complete the withdrawal of the tankers in Hitrino. It is very dangerous, we need to take all safety precautions.”
He added: “The damage is such that money will be able to repair it, but unfortunately, those who died can not be returned.”
It is expected a day of mourning will take place in memory of the victims on Monday.
Violeta Bulc, the European Union’s minister for transport, said on Twitter: “My thoughts are with victims of a train accident in Hitrino, Bulgaria. I wish all injured a speedy recovery. Ready to assist Bulgarian authorities.”
Bulgaria’s Transport Ministry has set up a crisis headquarters to investigate the accident.
Local media quoted Stanko Stankov, owner of Bulmarket, the operator of the train as saying that it was not clear how the gas tank in the middle of the train had exploded. It is believed the driver survived the incident and is due to be interviewed by investigators