Iran

Iranian Red Crescent staff member killed in train explosion

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Geneva, 20 February 2004 - A staff member of the Iranian Red Crescent Society was killed in the explosion of a freight train on 18 February near Neyshabur, 165 km south of the city of Mashhad. Ali Akbar Asghari, 51 years old, was the relief and rescue team manager for the Neyshabur branch of the Iranian Red Crescent.
He had travelled to the site with the governor of Neyshabur. He got out of the car and told his driver, a long-time friend and colleague, to park the car further away, at a safe distance from the derailment site. Seconds later the train exploded, killing him and the governor on the spot.

The train, carrying petrol, sulphur, cotton and fertilizer, derailed at around 04:00 in the morning of 18 February and caught fire. Several hours later, as firefighters struggled to bring the flames under control, it exploded, flattening five villages. To date, the train explosion has left 325 people dead and at least 450 injured. Rescue teams continue to sift through the rubble and the toll is expected to rise.

Ali Akbar Asghari, who was from Neyshabur, was buried yesterday. He leaves behind a wife and three children. He had worked for the Red Crescent for 23 years as staff, and had been a volunteer before that.

Some 200 Iranian Red Crescent volunteers and staff have been mobilized to participate in search and rescue operations. They helped transport the injured to hospital in Mashhad, the provincial capital, and have distributed food and relief items to people left homeless by the blast.

Three days of mourning have been declared in Neyshabur.

For further information, or to set up interviews(ISDN line available in Geneva) please contact:

In Neyshabur: Kajsa Fasth, Reporting delegate, Mobile tel: + 98 912 394 7334
In Geneva: Marie-Françoise Borel, Press Officer, Tel: + 41 22 730 43 46/+ 41 79 217 33 45
Duty phone, Tel: + 41 79 416 38 81