(Hualien) A train derailment inside a tunnel in eastern Taiwan has killed at least 51 people, making it the deadliest train crash in decades.
According to officials, the accident was caused by a construction machine that slipped off a ledge and rocked a train entering a tunnel near the coastal town of Hualien.
“The construction machine was not properly parked and slipped onto the railroad tracks,” Huiallian County Police Department head Sayed Ding-hsin told reporters.
“This is our first conclusion and we are trying to clarify the cause of the incident,” he said.
On-site media photos show a yellow flatbed in the back of a truck, near the train.
The National Fire Fighting Agency reported that at least 51 people had died and 146 passengers had been rushed to hospital.
One of those killed was a Frenchman, and two of the wounded were Japanese and a Macau resident.
TVS quoted survivors as saying that some of the trapped passengers were crying when they called for help, while others were unconscious.
“Most were crammed under the seats, while others were on the seats,” said the unidentified woman.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited an emergency center in the capital, Taipei. “We will definitely determine the cause of this incident which has claimed a large number of victims,” she told reporters.
The accident happened near the coastal city of Hualien around 9:30 a.m. local time on the Taiwan Eastern Railway.
Heap of sheets
Images published on the newspaper’s website UDN In front of the train, show inside the tunnel, which is no more than a pile of sheets.
In the Taiwan Red Cross footage, rescuers with helmets and lights walk on the roof of a collapsed train inside a tunnel to escape survivors.
Rescuers worked for hours to reach people trapped in the tunnel, using soaps to pull them out through warped metal sheets.
As of noon, no one was in the wagons, but rescuers were still at the site, AFP journalists said.
Due to the earthquakes that regularly shake the island, Taiwan has experienced rescuers who are always ready to respond and help people who are trapped during disasters.
People who took seats in the back of the train seem to have relatively escaped.
Images posted on the newspaper website Facebook UDN And what is pictured outside the tunnel will help passengers with at least two damaged cars and rescuers.
“I felt a sudden and violent shock and I fell,” a woman testified on the channel.
And to add: “We broke the window to climb on the roof of the train to get out”.
The train, which carried about 480 passengers and carried eight carriages, connected Taipei to the town of Taitung in the southeast of the island.
The accident happened on the first day of the annual grave cleansing ceremony, a long public holiday weekend where Taiwanese roads and railways are usually congested.
Multiple tunnels and bridges
During this period, residents usually return to their home village to clean the graves of their relatives and make offerings.
Taiwan’s eastern railway line is a popular tourist attraction along the coast.
By borrowing multiple tunnels and bridges, Huadong imposes mountains and very deep gorges before descending the valley.
Friday’s accident was one of the deadliest train disasters in Taiwan in decades.
The last major train derailment in Taiwan was in 2018, when 18 people died and more than 200 of the 366 passengers were injured south of the same line.
The driver of an eight-car train was charged with negligent homicide.
Thirty passengers have been killed and 112 injured since 1991 when two trains collided in Miaoli.
Thirty people were killed in 1981 when a truck collided with a passenger train at a level crossing, causing cars to fly over a bridge in Hinchu.
In 2003, a train crashed into a high hill on Mount Alishan, killing 17 people and injuring 156 others.