At least 36 people were reported killed and dozens injured after a packed train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday morning, authorities said, in the worst train crash on the island in decades.
The transport ministry said at least 72 passengers had been injured and sent to hospital while many remained trapped.
Emergency services earlier reported, “multiple persons with no vital signs” of life. The Central Emergency Operation Center said rescuers were trying to get to four carriages inside the tunnel that were badly damaged and difficult to access.
A brief video released by the centre from inside the tunnel showed rescuers arriving on the scene and a twisted carriage door.
Another image published by Central News Agency showed several passengers trying to disembark from one of the train’s carriages, with others showing passengers being evacuated on foot.
The eight carriage train, on its way to Taitung and carrying 350 people, came off the tracks at 9:28 am (01:28 GMT) in a tunnel north of Hualien, according to the Taiwan Railways Administration.
Taiwan’s minister of transport and communications Lin Chia-lung said on Twitter he was on his way to the scene of the accident.
“I have instructed the Taiwan Railways to set up a first-level disaster response centre,” he said. “I am also rushing to the response centre.”
A preliminary investigation suggested that the train hit a truck belonging to an engineering maintenance team, which had rolled onto the track, Taiwan Railways said.
Cars two and three appeared to have jumped the tracks, and smashed into the tunnel wall, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.
On Twitter, the island’s president Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services had been “fully mobilized” to rescue and assist passengers and railway staff.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident,” she wrote.
Friday marks the start of tomb-sweeping day, known as Qing Ming, and the beginning of a long holiday weekend in Taiwan when thousands of people are expected to travel across the island to clean the graves of their ancestors and use their free time to visit popular tourist sites like Taroko National Park.
Hualien is a popular scenic town next to eastern Taiwan’s famed Taroko Gorge, and Taiwan’s eastern railway line is a popular tourist draw because of its dramatic coastline and scenery.
Taiwan’s last major railway accident was in 2018 when a passenger train in eastern Taiwan’s Yilan derailed, leaving 18 people dead.
In 1990, 30 were killed in Miaoli when two trains collided. More than 100 people were injured. (Aljazeera)