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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 16:38 GMT
Twelve dead in France train fire
Wreckage of the train
A faulty heating system reportedly caused the fire
Twelve people have died in a fire on an overnight sleeper train near the eastern French city of Nancy.

The victims - six men, five women and a child - died of smoke inhalation after fire broke out in the front two carriages at around 0215 (0115GMT) on Wednesday.


I smelt the smoke, then I saw two conductors racing forwards, then the train suddenly stopped

Survivor
The dead were believed to include five Americans, three Germans, a Russian couple, a Hungarian and a Greek passenger, said regional officials and the US embassy.

Nine other people were hurt - four Germans, two Britons, an American and two French people. Their injuries were not said to be life-threatening.

Officials have initially blamed a faulty heating system for the tragedy.

The fire was spotted by railway staff as the train passed through Nancy station, and the driver stopped almost immediately outside the city.

One survivor described being woken "by the shouting and screams of children".


The fire was limited, and the amount of smoke very quickly became catastrophic

Jean-Louis Modere
Chief firefighter
"I broke a window to escape, a sort of small porthole. I squeezed through a mouse hole," he said.

Another passenger said: "I smelt the smoke, then I saw two conductors racing forwards, then the train suddenly stopped."

Rescue workers reached the scene several minutes later but were too late to save the victims.

"They discovered the first sleeping car charred - inside were 12 dead," said Jean-Francois Cordet, a regional official.

German train

Several hours after the fire was discovered, smoke was still seen coming from the train.

Map showing location of fire
About 150 passengers were aboard the train, which was heading from Paris to the Austrian capital, Vienna, via Strasbourg.

The two carriages - belonging to German national railway Deutsche Bahn - dated from the 1960s, but had been extensively renovated in the last three years, said a Deutsche Bahn spokesman.

It was partly made of wood and included fitted carpeting.

"The catastrophe was amplified by the fact that it was in a confined space. The fire was limited, and the amount of smoke very quickly became catastrophic," chief firefighter Jean-Louis Modere told the Associated Press news agency.

Fatal train accidents are uncommon in France, where the high-speed rail network is seen as one of the best in the world.

Transport Minister Gilles de Robien and SNCF President Louis Gallois went to the scene of the accident.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"One of the worst fires on this country's rail network in recent years"
The BBC's Jon Brain
"Firefighters were too late to save the victims"
See also:

23 Oct 02 | Country profiles
27 Mar 01 | Europe
27 Sep 01 | Europe
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