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Italian train crash toll up to 22

3 July 09 16:03 GMT

Twenty-two people are now known to have died after a train exploded as it passed through an Italian town on Monday night, officials said.

At least another 10 people remain in a serious condition after the accident in the northern town of Viareggio.

A train carrying gas tanks jumped the tracks and exploded near houses which were engulfed in flames.

Investigators are trying to determine whether a broken axle may have been responsible for the accident.

Jeering crowd

The death toll rose on Friday after two women and a young man died of their injuries, officials said.

Many victims of the explosion have yet to be identified because they suffered such severe burns.

The blast caused two buildings - described as houses or small blocks of flats - to collapse while others were set on fire.

The accident happened shortly before midnight, when most people would have been at home.

Elia Quiroz, who lives near the town's railway station, said he was about to go to bed on Monday night when his kitchen table started shaking.

"Then I heard an explosion and I went outside. I saw flames as high as 30, 40 metres, and I ran," he told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi travelled to the town on Tuesday to witness the emergency operation, but was greeted by a jeering crowd.

Local people have demanded to know why gas was being transported so close to people's houses.

The cause of the accident is unclear, though Italian Transport Minister Altero Matteoli told parliament on Wednesday a defective axle may have caused the rail disaster.

The state railway company Trenitalia said on Thursday it would not use any wagons supplied by the US-based GATX Corp that owned the cars involved in incident.

GATX said in a statement that it did not see any connection between its wagons and the cause of the accident, but it was investigating.

Viareggio's damaged train station partially reopened on Friday.

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