ATHI RIVER, Kenya - Nine runaway train wagons, some carrying liquefied gas, crashed at a station south of Nairobi, causing an explosion that killed 18 people, injured dozens and destroyed nearby houses, witnesses and officials said Sunday.
All but two of the victims were residents of railway houses close to Athi station, 15 miles south of the capital, where the accident took place around midnight Saturday, the witnesses said. The two others killed were from nearby slums, officials said.
Esther Otieno, deputy operations director at the station, said 18 people were killed.
''They looked like ashes. Only two could be seen as bodies, the rest were ashes,'' said Richard Njiru, a witness. ''There were only two people burnt outside. The rest were inside the houses, nobody was hurt in the train.''
There are some 30 houses around the station, many of which had been reduced to charred rubble, Njiru said.
Houses and carriages were still burning hours after the crash as thousands of onlookers gathered around the scene. ''Even the tallest trees are burning,'' Njiru said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.
Police and railway officials at the scene said the wagons were detached at a station a few miles from Athi River as the train headed toward Nairobi from Mombassa.
The detached wagons then reversed out of control back toward Athi River before derailing and exploding on impact, said Kariuki Kimani, the police officer in charge of Athi River.
''It's very sad. ... They call it runaways, maybe something went wrong. We need it to investigate,'' Otieno said, adding that detaching wagons was ''normal'' procedure.
Thirteen of the injured, mostly with third-degree burns, were admitted to Nairobi Hospital and another 23 were in Kenyatta Hospital, said Andrew Stenton, chief executive of Nairobi Hospital.
Three of the 13 at Nairobi Hospital were in a serious condition, Stenton said.
Kenya has a notorious history of train accidents. On Wednesday, seven passengers died and 38 were injured went off the tracks in western Kenya. Last year, 32 people were killed when passenger train using the same line as Sunday's train, went of the tracks.