Trans-Siberian Railway Explosion, Inferno Prompt Evacuation

Thursday, 06 Feb 2014 07:44 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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No one was injured after 32 railcars loaded with gas condensate derailed and exploded on the Trans-Siberian Railway some 500 miles northeast of Moscow, according to the Associated Press.

The incident happened at the Kirov railway station, forcing emergency personnel to evacuate about 700 residents from numerous apartment buildings in the area, a Russian emergency situations ministry said. 

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Emergency Ministry Chief Mikhail Likhachev told the Associated Press that there was no environmental threat and no gas spilled into a nearby river, despite earlier reports.

Russian officials said that several hundred firefighters battled the blaze and an investigation had begun on the derailment and cause of the explosion.

The accident was reminiscent of the tragic crude oil derailment and explosion last summer in the small town of Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, according to National Public Radio. 

"We just didn't know what it was — volcano, meteorite, what is that? Once you don't know, you're just afraid. You just run. You run," one witness who lived in a nearby apartment building told NPR.

The blast destroyed numerous downtown buildings, while those surviving were saturated with heavy metals like lead, arsenic, copper, along with thick crude oil. Three months after the explosion, emergency workers still struggled to pump the crude and other chemicals from underneath lakefront streets.

"So, the petroleum mostly flew on the ground, on this side to the lake. So, the lake was burning for a big part," Robert Mercier, head of Lac-M├ęgantic's environmental department, told NPR at the time. "That was something to see, yeah? You can see here, all the landscape in this area is destroyed ... all these houses are gone now. Nothing there, nothing there."

Russia's Trans-Siberian Railway runs across the country's vast terrain, from the northwest portion of Russian to the southeast, connecting Europe with the Pacific Ocean. The railway runs from St. Petersburg to the Vladivostok. 

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