MOSCOW — A runaway freight train carrying tons of high explosives slammed into a coal train at a switching yard in Siberia and exploded Tuesday, killing four people and injuring 280 others, the Soviet news agency Tass said.
The blast in the city of Sverdlovsk left a bomb crater nearly 200 feet across and 32 feet deep, the newspaper Izvestia said, and triggered a fire and a second explosion at an oil storage tank in the yard. More than 30 homes and other buildings were damaged by the twin blasts.
Izvestia said the entire town was engulfed in smoke and that 12 apartment houses and 22 other buildings were badly damaged. More than 850 families were evacuated from damaged buildings to emergency shelters.
"Two persons were killed on the spot and two more died in hospital after two railway cars with explosive cargoes blew up at the sorting station in Sverdlovsk," Tass said.
"A total of 280 people requested medical assistance after the explosion," Tass said. Izvestia said 87 people were hospitalized.
'A Serious Mistake'
Izvestia said the rail yard dispatcher "had made a serious mistake," and it blamed her for the fatal collision.
The newspaper said the train, carrying industrial explosives, arrived in Sverdlovsk, situated 1,000 miles east of Moscow, from Nizhny Tagil, and the locomotive was then detached from the freight cars.
"The command was given to put chocks under the wheels to prevent the (engineless) train from moving," Izvestia said.
For unknown reasons, the dispatcher then ordered the chocks removed. The train rolled down a hill, picking up speed as it freewheeled through the yard, colliding with a coal train and exploding, the newspaper said.
It was the second fatal crash involving an explosives carrier in five months. On June 5, a train carrying 120 tons of dynamite exploded in the city of Arzamas, killing 83 people and injuring 700.