3,000 likely dead after trains collide in North Korea
SEOUL, South Korea – Two fuel trains collided at a North Korean railroad station near the Chinese border Thursday, igniting a deafening explosion that rained debris for more than 10 miles around, South Korean media said. As many as 3,000 people might have been killed or injured, according to the reports.
The secretive communist government in Pyongyang declared an emergency in the area while cutting off international telephone lines to prevent details of the crash from leaking out, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. The North’s official KCNA news agency still had not mentioned the disaster by Friday morning, a full day later.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry confirmed Friday that there was an explosion at Ryongchon, a town 12 miles from China, but could not provide further details. “All we know is that there was a large explosion,” a ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, had quietly passed by rail through the station as he returned from China before dawn some nine hours earlier. It was not clear what caused the crash, or if it was related to Kim’s journey.
But a South Korean official, quoted on condition of anonymity by South Korea’s all-news cable channel, YTN, said it appeared to be an accident.
Ryongchon has a reported population of 130,000 and is known for its chemical and metalwork plants.
South Korean news organizations reported that the collision took place about 1 p.m. Thursday with one train carrying oil and the second with liquefied petroleum gas. On Friday, however, YTN cited government sources as saying that the blast was triggered by a train carrying LPG and there wasn’t a crash. Because of the absence of official information, there was no immediate way to clarify the discrepancy.
“The area around Ryongchon station has turned into ruins as if it were bombarded,” Yonhap quoted witnesses as saying. “Debris from the explosion soared high into the sky and drifted to Sinuiju,” a North Korean town on the border with China, it said.
A five-story building near the station was completely leveled, a Chinese source in Dandong told South Korea’s Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper after telephoning a relative in Ryongchon.
Cho Sung-dae, a Yonhap correspondent in Beijing, said his reports were based on residents in the Chinese border city of Dandong who talked with their relatives in Ryongchon.
They described a massive explosion involving a large number of casualties but could not give figures, Cho told The Associated Press. Cho also said North Korean authorities appeared to shut down the border with China after the incident.
Subsequent attempts by his Chinese sources to contact people in Ryongchon failed because the phone lines apparently had been severed.
YTN, Yonhap and the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported that the number killed or injured could reach 3,000. The organizations said their counts came from South Korean government sources, whom they declined to further identify.