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Officials Say Four Dead in Crash

July 8, 1987

HERBORN, West Germany (AP) _ Four people died after a tank truck loaded with gasoline crashed into an ice cream parlor, setting off a series of explosions and fires, officials said Wednesday.

Initial reports after the accident Tuesday night said more than 30 people were killed. By Wednesday night, however, all the up to 50 people originally reported missing were accounted for.

Siegfried Hermann, chief of the rescue operation, said Wednesday evening the body of one young man was believed still buried under the charred remains of the ice cream parlor, but a police statement later said the 19-year-old had telephoned his mother at her home outside Herborn.

Police said they did not know where the teen-ager had been.

Two people died of burns in hospitals Wednesday. Rescuers found two bodies in the rubble of the parlor and used dogs and cranes through the day in their search for more victims.

Police said clearing work would begin Thursday.

Town spokesman Gerhard Boekel said 36 people were injured, including the two women who died later in hospitals.

The tank truck’s crash ignited a gas main, started a series of explosions and fires and turned downtown Herborn into an inferno.

On Wednesday, people who had been reported missing began reporting to their families or police and the estimated death toll declined steadily.

″Many of them apparently lost their heads and ran off, but they have returned,″ Boekel said.

Rescuers found the bodies of two young women, ages 18 and 20, in the wreckage of the ice cream parlor.

A third woman, also 18, died Wednesday afternoon of burns at a clinic in Cologne. A fourth woman died in a hospital in Koblenz.

Police were hoping to interview the truck driver Thursday. The 48-year-old driver, who is hospitalized, told police his brakes failed.

Norbert Winkler of the prosecutor’s office at Limburg, which has jurisdiction in Herborn, said authorities had begun an investigation and there was a possibility of negligent-homicide charges against the driver.

Boekel said the driver had been in no condition to be interviewed by police on Wednesday, but did not elaborate on his injuries.

Charred debris covered the streets Wednesday, and the truck’s blackened hull rested on its side. Dozens of cars were burned.

The downtown area was evacuated because of the danger of further explosions, but rescue workers with dogs started the search as soon as heat from the ruins subsided.

Herborn, a town of 21,600, is about 35 miles northwest of Frankfurt.

Police said three buildings were leveled in the 9 p.m. accident and nine others severely damaged and gutted, leaving the block looking like it had been firebombed.

Authorities said 40 people were left homeless and were given temporary refuge at a nursing home.

″Everything just blew up like a war was starting,″ said Joerg Kessler, 23, of Herborn, an ice cream parlor customer who managed to escape with only bruises.

Spilled gasoline carried the blaze briefly into the town’s water main and sewer, and flames leaped for a while from a small river, the Dill. Police said the truck had been carrying 9,360 gallons of gasoline.

Firemen fought for nearly five hours to bring the flames under control.

″The fuel was flowing in the street like a river,″ said Carsten Huth, 21, another injured survivor. ″Flames were shooting up from the street.″

The truck sheared off the front of the ice cream parlor, the Rialto, spraying those sitting inside with gasoline before the explosions started, said several survivors who were admitted to Herborn Hospital.

The survivors said they had fled the parlor after the crash, before the building was engulfed in flames. They said several seconds, perhaps a minute, elapsed between the impact of the truck hitting the store and the start of the explosions and fire.

″There was a tremendous crash, and then fuel washed over us like a shower,″ said Erik Kadesch, 22.

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