Ryongchon Disaster

Up to 3,000 people have been killed or injured in a huge explosion after two fuel trains collided in North Korea, reports say.

The blast happened at Ryongchon station, 50km north of Pyongyang, South Korea's YTN television said.

The incident reportedly happened nine hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il passed through the station on his way home from a visit to Beijing.

Mr Kim had been in China to discuss North Korea's nuclear programme.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North Korean authorities had declared a state of emergency in the area and cut off all international telephone lines, apparently to stop news of the accident spreading.

A picture is beginning to emerge in North Korea of the scale of Thursday's rail disaster close to China's border.

In the first independent account, the Red Cross said the train blast killed at least 54 people and injured 1,200.

But diplomatic sources in Pyongyang say the figure is much higher, as reports indicate the blast happened when two wagons of dynamite hit a live wire.

North Korea has made no official statement on the blast at Ryongchon, 20km from China's border.

The Red Cross was allowed into the area, in an unusual concession from the North Korean authorities, becoming the only outside agency to see the disaster area. According to the agency, 160 people were killed and 1,300 were injured in the disaster. A wide area was reported to have been affected, with some airborne debris reportedly falling across the border in China. (Satellite pictures published by the BBC purported to show widespread damage in the town, but these were later retracted—they actually show Baghdad from an earlier date, and the strong black-white contrast was mis-interpreted.) The Red Cross reported that 1,850 houses and buildings had been destroyed and another 6,350 had been damaged.

On April 23, the United Nations received an appeal for international aid from North Korea's government. On April 24, a few diplomats and aid workers were allowed into the country to assess the disaster.