A freight train, travelling between Skikda and Annaba, derailed at 1:02 pm in the eastern suburb of Azzaba, where the track had been raised. The locomotive, pulling 16 cars (11 of which containing fuel), suddenly tipped over causing 8 tankers to overturn (7 diesel and 1 gasoline), and a spill of 420 m³ of hydrocarbons (HC).
Major soil vibrations were felt, leading to widespread panic among local residents. The civil protection services evacuated residents from the adjacent zone and established a safety perimeter. A large proportion of the HC released wound up entering sewer pipe inlets, only to exit 800 m further downstream into a river through an outlet near a densely-populated district. Around 2 pm, a fire broke out at the boundary of the main canal, triggering an explosion that spread to the sewers (domino effect). Given the strong pressure created, manholes were unearthed and sent flying, at times more than 15 m into the air, killing a child and heavily damaging the pavement and all cars on it.
Given the extent of this accident, emergency responders were required to protect individuals and property close to the derailment site while at the same time containing the fire and pumping the fuel spread into the sewer system as fast as possible. At 4:30 pm, a petrochemical platform sent a backup contingent from among its reserve forces. Civil and military authorities from the local Wilaya administration as well as the CEO of the rail transport company arrived on the scene. Track was mangled over nearly a 400-m stretch and had to be cut away. Due to the risk of igniting the HC saturating the soils, the rail link, critical to the transport of fuels between Annaba and Souk Ahras, could only be restored around 4 pm the next day following issuance of a permit to use a blowtorch within a given perimeter. The contaminated surface area, covered by sand to absorb the HC, was stripped down to a certain depth. The fuel had also partially polluted the Fergoug Dam water, imposing as a precautionary measure the interruption in drinking water supply to residents of both Mohammadia and Sig. An analysis of raw water samples nonetheless yielded negative results, which were subsequently confirmed by analyses of treated water samples. One death and 4 injuries, one of which serious, were reported. The national gendarmerie investigation assigned responsibility of the accident on a number of executives working for the rail operator, citing them for negligence in maintaining the railway, given its age, and for failure to respect safety criteria, such as tank filling. For its part, the transport company accused the Ramdane-Djamel station’s Head of Operations, as well as the train conductor and ticket agent, who would be brought before a disciplinary panel.