Military


Ryongchon, DPRK

Train-wreck and Explosion

Initial reports indicated that on April 22, 2004, two trains, one carrying petroleum and the other liquefied natural gas, collided near the North Korean town of Ryongchon, ten miles southeast of the Chinese border, causing a massive explosion. Additional information, both from the North Korean government and other sources indicate that the cause of the explosion was not a result of trains carrying fuel, but was instead caused by the detonation of explosives that the trains were carrying.

The accident took place hours after the passage of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il, who was returning from a visit to Beijing. Initial casualty estimates were reported to be in the thousands, with North Korea reported to having declared a state of emergency. United Nations and Red Cross officials reported early on April 23 that at least 54 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured in the disaster, but the toll could ultimately be much higher as over a thousand buildings were completely destroyed and more buildings were seriously damaged.

On April 24, 2004, the Korean Central News Agency released an item commenting on the explosion. According to the report, the blast was caused by "the electrical contact caused by carelessness during the shunting of wagons loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and tank wagons".

According to an UN Office For The Coordination Of Humanitarian Affairs Report from 24 April 2004, the explosion resulted from the contact of two train wagons carrying ammonium nitrate with a wagon containing fuel oil. Each wagon contained 40 MT of ammonium nitrate which were enroute to a construction site for the Pakma-cheol san irrigation project. This resulted in a massive explosion creating a large crater and leveling everything in a 500 m radius.

As of 24 April 2004, the explosion had injured approximately 1,300 people, 370 of which were hospitalized. 154 bodies had been recovered, including 76 children while five people were reported missing.

In addition, 1,850 houses were either destroyed or rendered unsafe due to the explosion. Most of these houses were single story dwellings. An estimated 1,850 families (approximately 8,000 people) have been made homeless by the accident. This represents approximately 40 per cent of the area of the township. Public buildings suffered major damage; 12 were completely destroyed and 10 partially destroyed. Some images of the resulting damage were also released, some of which can be seen here.

According to a KCNA release, the radius of the damage caused by the explosion was 2 km, with the most serious damage concentrated within the radius of 1.5 km. The wagon explosion was reported to have made a 15 meter deep crater.

Ryongchon County has a population of 123,200 people, of whom 27,000 live in the county city.


Ryongchon, DPRK
Click on the small image to view a larger version
New Post-blast Satellite Imagery from DigitalGlobe

Pre-explosion overview of the area of devastion
(Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)

Overview of the area of devastion
(Source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Comparative overview of the blast-affected town of Ryongchon

Approximate location of the explosion
(Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)

Approximate location of the explosion, post-blast
The explosion's crater appears to have been partially filled in
(Source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Comparative overview of the approximate location of the explosion in the town of Ryongchon

The Ryongchon Primary School, pre-explosion
(Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)

The Ryongchon Primary School, post-explosion
(Source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Comparative overview of the damaged Ryongchon Primary School

Overview of the blast area from about a year ago. The visible black stuff is coal dust. (Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)

Overview of the crater (unannotated) (source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Close-up of the crater. scraping activity is visible as are two probable pieces of North Korean earth moving equipment (source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Earth moving equipment working to fill the crater is visible in this picture taken a few days after the blast by UN officials
See the Picture Gallery

An image taken on 24 April shows the crater before North Korean earth moving equipment could finish filling it in. (Source: Orbview 24 April 2004)

Humanitarian relief activity is evident from the numerous white objects which are probably tents. Over 300 tents are visible. (source: DigitalGlobe 27 April 2004)

Pre- and post-blast 2.5 meter comparative overview of Ryongchon.
These were taken respectively on 15 Feb 2004 and 27 Apr 2004
(Source: CNES 2004/Distribution SPOT Image)

NGA CIB Imagery showing the town of Ryongchon and surrounding area.

NGA CIB Imagery showing the town of Ryongchon.

A Russian 1:50,000 scale map showing Ryongchon. (Source: Eastview Cartographic and the Library of Congress. Map date 1979)

A Russian 1:50,000 scale map showing Ryongchon. (Source: Eastview Cartographic and the Library of Congress. Map date 1979)
Ikonos Browse imagery of the town of Ryongchon.
Ikonos Browse imagery of the town of Ryongchon. The rail lines and the location of the rail station are annotated.
Overview of the probable area of the blast. (Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)
The Ryongchon rail station.
(Source: DigitalGlobe 13 May 2003)
FUBAR DPRK IMINT
The two images below are examples of misidentified satellite imagery of Ryongchon widely disseminated in the media. Click on either images for more information
MSNBC website and ITN use wrong blast image CBSNews.com website mistakes browse imagery for post-blast image of Ryongchon

DigitalGlobe Image - Baghdad 9 April 2003



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