Dozens of people died this Friday when a train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan, on the first day of a long weekend, while rescuers tried to access trapped passengers.
The office of President Tsai Ing-wen stated that the head of state ordered hospitals to prepare to host many victims.
“The top priority now is to help the trapped people,” his office said in a statement.
Police reported 36 passengers with “cardiac arrest prior to arrival at the hospital,” a term used for someone without vital signs.
Another 72 people remained trapped inside the wagons and 61 were transferred to medical centers.
According to the emergency operations management center, the balance would be lower: 26 people “without vital signs.”
The UDN chain, whose team is outside the tunnel, showed images of at least two undamaged wagons and lifeguards helping passengers out.
“I felt as if there had been a sudden violent jolt and fell to the ground,” one woman told the television network. “We broke the window to get on the roof of the train and get out.”
This eight-car train, carrying about 350 passengers, was heading from Taipei to the city of Taitung, in the southeast of the island.
The accident occurred at around 9:30 AM (01:30 GMT) near the coastal city of Hualien.
– Construction vehicle –
According to the media, a construction vehicle caused the accident by sliding down an embankment and hitting the train as it entered the tunnel.
Photos taken at the scene show the back of an overturned yellow flatbed truck near the train.
The accident coincides with the start of the annual grave-cleaning festival, a long holiday weekend that fills the country’s roads and railroads.
During this period, the inhabitants generally return to their hometowns to clean the graves of their relatives and make offerings.
The eastern Taiwan railway line is often a tourist attraction because it runs along its splendid and less populated eastern coast.
Through multiple tunnels and bridges it winds through mountains and spectacular gorges before descending through the Huadong Valley.
Friday’s accident could be one of the worst rail catastrophes of recent decades in Taiwan.
The last major derailment dates back to 2018, when 18 people died at the southern end of the same line.
The driver of that eight-car train was then charged with negligent homicide. More than 200 of the 366 passengers were injured.
This accident was the worst since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured in the collision of two trains at Miaoli.
aw / jta / erl-tjc /