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Iran Train Explosion Kills Over 200

TEHRAN, Iran -- Runaway train cars carrying fuel and industrial chemicals derailed Wednesday and caught fire, setting off explosions in northeastern Iran that killed more than 200 people, injured hundreds and devastated five villages, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Top Neyshabur city officials -- including the local governor, mayor and fire chief -- were among the dead, along with 182 fire and rescue workers. At least 400 people were reported injured. Homes, largely small mud houses, collapsed from the force of the explosion in villages near the train tracks.

The freight train cars -- hauling sulfur, fuel oil and fertilizers -- blew up outside the city of Neyshabur, 650 kilometers east of Tehran, the capital, IRNA reported.

"The whole city is shocked by this accident. Official vehicles mounted with loudspeakers are roaming the city, calling for volunteers to donate blood," said Saeed Kaviani, editor of Sobh-e-Neyshabur, a newspaper that comes out three times per week.

Dozens of people remain buried under the rubble of their homes in the villages, Kaviani said.

Fifty-one freight cars were waiting at the Abu Muslim train station near Neyshabur when they were set in motion by "some vibrations," IRNA reported without elaborating. According to Mohammad Maqdouri, head of the local emergency operations headquarters, the cars rolled out of the station at 4 a.m. local time.

The train cars, picking up speed and moving without an engine or anyone in control, overturned when they reached Khayyam, the next stop, starting a blaze. It was not immediately clear how far they had traveled. Maqdouri, speaking on Tehran television, said the cars exploded at 9:37 a.m., when 90 percent of the fire had been put out.

Maqdouri said 182 firefighters and rescue workers were among the dead. Earlier reports on Iranian radio had quoted him as saying 50 to 60 people had died in the blast.

Vahid Bakechi, a senior official in Khorasan province's Emergency Headquarters, said more than 400 people were injured. Blood supplies were being rushed to the area and Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards closed the immediate area fearing more explosions.

Governor Mojtaba Farahmand-Nekou, the city's top political authority, the head of the Neyshabur fire department, and the city's mayor all died, IRNA reported, quoting unidentified officials at the Khorasan province governor-general's office. In Iran, mayors do not wield political authority, but are in charge of local development issues.

The report said the head of the city's energy department also was killed and that the director-general of the provincial railways was missing. IRNA quoted local officials as saying most of the casualties were in five nearby villages that were "severely damaged."

"The scale of the devastation is very great, and the damage appears more than initially thought," said Bakechi of the provincial emergency office.

The villages of Dehnow, Hashemabad and Abdolabad were among those reported most severely damaged. IRNA said the blast was so powerful that windows were shattered as far as 10 kilometers away.

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