Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 16:00 UK

Disaster hit in dead of night

The northern Italian town of Viareggio has been rocked by an explosion that destroyed several houses and killed more than a dozen people after its gas cargo exploded. The BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports from the scene.

Resident of Viareggio after train accident
Residents of Viareggio are struggling to take it all in

The local people are just standing round here talking to their friends, taking it all in.

They may well have heard and even felt the explosion last night, and have come to stand as close as they are allowed, to look.

That's about 200-300m from the scene.

There is very much a containment operation going on here, with very many expert firefighters trying to control the situation to make sure none of the other liquefied gas tanks explode.

Theories abound

Viareggio is almost like a seaside town, in the sense that it is full of tourist shops and gift shops and the town itself runs along the coast, where there are many sunbeds and parasols all laid out as if nothing had happened.

A town of only 50,000 people, whose lifeblood is the tourist industry, has never known anything like this.

We are being held, like the locals, at the grey concrete station, a short distance from where the accident happened.

Viareggio after train accident
The toll was so high because most people were asleep in their beds

Emergency teams are continuing to work. An ambulance rushed by, sirens blaring, only moments ago.

In the immediate area, many of the buildings were flattened and a rescue operation has been going on to pull people free and find survivors.

The emergency services personnel are working in extremely dangerous conditions, bearing in mind that the train has not yet been declared safe.

At the same time, an inquiry has started into how this happened.

Some people are already coming up with theories about the brakes on the train being faulty. The unions are saying that maybe it was because of old and dilapidated rolling stock.

We do not know the answer to any of that yet. At the moment, we are standing with people who are still taking in this shocking incident.

Many would have known those caught up in the disaster.

The casualty toll was so high because the explosion occurred in the middle of the night, when most people were in their beds and were unaware of what was to come.

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