Official: Blast may have been cause of Russian train wreck that killed 25

By Ivan Sekretarev, AP
Saturday, November 28, 2009

Official: Blast may have caused train wreck

UGLOVKA, Russia — An express train carrying hundreds of passengers from Moscow to St. Petersburg derailed, killing dozens of people and injuring scores of others in what may have been an act of sabotage, Russian officials said.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova later told reporters Saturday morning that 25 people were killed, 19 were missing and 96 were being treated in hospitals after the last three cars of the 14-car Nevsky Express left the tracks in the Tver province northwest of Moscow.

Earlier, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised comments that 39 people were dead, but a Ministry spokesman later said Shoigu had been given the wrong information.

Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin told reporters Saturday that the Friday accident may have been caused by an explosion under the tracks, raising fears that the luxury train, popular with business executives and government officials, was the target of a terrorist attack.

A light rain started to fall at the scene of the derailment at daybreak Saturday as emergency workers huddled around fires, wrapped in blankets, and two huge cranes lifted pieces of the wreckage clear of the site as crews continued the search for victims.

One of the bashed and battered railway carriages lay on its side across the tracks, while baggage and metal debris lay scattered in the muddy ground.

Police and prosecutors swarmed over the site and restricted access to what was reported to be a possible bomb crater.

Friday night’s Nevsky Express was carrying 633 passengers and 20 railway personnel during its regular run to St. Petersburg, the emergencies ministry said.

The derailment occurred in a rural area near the border between the Novgorod and Tver provinces, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Moscow and 150 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of St. Petersburg, authorities said.

Russian trains have been the targets of bombers in the past.

An explosion on the Moscow-St. Petersburg line in 2007 derailed a passenger train and injured 27 people. Two suspects have been arrested and authorities are searching for a former military officer they believe was behind the blast, but the motive was unclear.

A December 2003 suicide bomb attack on a commuter train near the Russian republic of Chechnya killed 44. At least 12 people were injured in June 2005 when a bomb derailed a train headed from Chechnya to Moscow.

Terrorism has been a major concern in Russia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as Chechen rebels have clashed with government forces in two wars.

But Russia has also been plagued by deadly accidents resulting from its deteriorating Soviet-era infrastructure, a high incidence of alcohol abuse and from negligence.

Russian news agencies reported that some injured passengers were taken by train and bus to hospitals in the area and to St. Petersburg for medical attention.

State-run Vesti-24 broadcast live from the national crisis response center center in Moscow. President Dmitry Medvedev ordered authorities to help the victims and determine what caused the derailment, state media cited the Kremlin as saying.

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