October 31, 1995 in Nation/World

Survivors Relate Harrowing Tales Azerbaijan Mourns Victims Of Deadly Fire In Subway

Chris Bird Associated Press
 

As a nation mourned the victims of one of the world’s worst subway disasters, survivors on Monday recalled harrowing escapes through a pitch-black tunnel billowing with clouds of toxic smoke.

The packed train caught fire between two subway stations in central Baku Saturday, trapping hundreds of terrified passengers. Most of the 300 people killed died of a carbon monoxide poisoning from burning materials in the carriages; more than 260 were injured.

President Geidar Aliev and other officials blamed the tragedy on a malfunction in the electrical system, although the head of the subway suggested that only a “toxic agent” could explain the high death toll.

Survivors said Monday that it took rescue workers and firefighters more than two hours to reach them after the blaze erupted.

“There was a flash of light,” 26-year-old Ilham Gamidov said from his hospital bed. “People smashed the windows of the carriage, trying to escape.”

Gamidov said he helped a woman and one of her two children clamber out of the carriage. The woman’s stockings had caught on fire, badly burning her legs.

“Her other child had to remain behind,” he said quietly.

In another bed in the Fifth Clinical Hospital, 12-year-old Aziz Maradov, leaned against his pillows, his chest wheezing from the toxic smoke. “I was so scared,” he admitted.

Maradov was reunited with his 17-year-old brother, Mardan, in the hospital and had been told his mother was at another hospital. But out of earshot, a nurse confided the truth.

“She is dead,” the nurse. “He’ll know soon enough.”

Sweating with fever and hoarse from the poisonous fumes, a 33-year-old teacher, Kirami Khankishiyeva told her story staccato-fashion, then fell silent, her brown eyes wide.

“There were screams and everyone was trying to jump out of the train. I was alone,” she said.

As survivors battled their injuries, citizens of the Azerbaijani capital mourned the dead.

A mullah called the Muslim faithful to prayer over a loudspeaker at the Teze Pir Mosque, where stone minarets tower above the narrow, often chaotic streets of the old city.

Outside, bodies wrapped in sheets or in charred clothing or in rough wooden coffins awaited their ritual cleansing before burial.

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