BELGRADE, Serbia (HPD) — A key international highway in eastern Serbia remained closed Monday, along with schools and other public institutions in the area, after an ammonia leak that sickened dozens of people.
An emergency situation has been declared in the eastern town of Pirot, near the Bulgarian border, after a freight train carrying ammonia derailed late Sunday, releasing the toxic and flammable gas into the atmosphere.
An investigation is underway to determine what caused the crash, authorities said. Infrastructure Minister Goran Vesic said the immediate concern was to prevent further damage.
“The accident was probably caused by bad infrastructure,” he told a news conference. He added that authorities will also investigate whether strict procedures for transporting toxic materials were violated.
Measurements Monday at various locations in Pirot, which is a few kilometers from where the train derailed, showed no presence of ammonia in the air or water, authorities said. But the authorities advised people to be cautious and stay at home, while schools and other public institutions were closed.
More than 50 people, including children, sought medical attention at a local hospital in Pirot, while another 15 were taken to the southern city of Nis, state television RTS reported.
The station reported that an elderly patient died after being admitted to a hospital and that the body of a man was found near the site of the derailment. The cause of both deaths has yet to be determined.
People in the area have also been advised not to drink tap water or use it to prepare food for the time being.
Ammonia gas leaks can be flammable and cause serious injury or death.
The train was running on a regular route from Bulgaria to Serbia. It consisted of 21 carriages, four of which derailed and one spilled ammonia.
The scene of the accident remained cordoned off Monday. The highway that connects Serbia with Bulgaria is usually very crowded during the Christmas holidays.