An express passenger train partially derailed Friday inside a mountain tunnel in eastern Taiwan, killing at least 51 people and injuring dozens in what is being described as the island’s worst rail disaster.
Photos and video taken after the crash showed a scene of cars torn apart inside the tunnel and passengers crawling out of the wreckage.
“People just fell all over each other, on top of one another,” a woman who survived the crash told domestic television, according to Reuters. “It was terrifying. There were whole families there.”
The crash occurred just as the Taroko Express, carrying nearly 500 passengers, was entering a tunnel along a coastal stretch of the line in the island’s mountainous east. A construction truck operated by the railway slid down a hillside and onto the track, Taiwan Railways Administration news officer Weng Hui-ping said, causing the train to derail partially inside the mountain tunnel.
“At present it is suspected because the vehicle wasn’t braked properly, it slid for around 20 meters along the site access road and entered the eastern trunk line,” Feng Hui-sheng, Taiwan Railways Administration deputy director, told reporters. He said the truck was there trying to shore up the hillside against landslides.
The National Fire Service said at least 51 people were killed and dozens injured in what it called the worst train disaster in the island’s history. Many of the passengers killed were crushed as the cars slammed against the tunnel walls, officials said, according to The Associated Press.
Five of the train’s eight cars lodged inside the tunnel, according to Taiwan News. Taiwan’s government said there were 496 people on the train, including 120 without seats and standing, Reuters said.
“Our train crashed into a truck,” one man said in a video on Taiwan television, according to Reuters. “The truck came falling down.”
The train was en route from the capital, Taipei, to Taitung along the island’s southeast coast when the crash and derailment occurred in Hualien near the stunning Taroko Gorge scenic area.
Volunteer rescue workers from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation said children were among the dozens who escaped the train cars.
“We see people coming off the train and they look shaken and nervous,” Chen Tzu-chong, a Tzu Chi team leader on site, told the AP.
Weng said the speed of the train at the time of impact was not known. He said the crash was the deadliest in the island’s history.
Many of the passengers would have been traveling for the first day of the four-day Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping Festival — an annual pilgrimage to the gravesites of ancestors.
In a tweet, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services “have been fully mobilized to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”
Taiwanese railway officials will be required to conduct sweeps along other tracks in the system to “prevent this from happening again,” said Su Tseng-chang, the Taiwanese premier.
Taiwan News quoted officials as saying that the crash had delayed or disrupted the schedules of 16 other trains and that it would take at least a week for train travel to return to normal.