Train derailment in Taiwan: dozens of people are believed to have died

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Dozens of people are believed to have died in the derailment of a crowded train inside a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday, the first day of a long weekend, as relief efforts attempted to reach the passengers trapped.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said the head of state has ordered hospitals to prepare for a reception of large numbers of victims.

“The top priority now is to rescue those stranded,” his office said in a statement.

Police reported 36 passengers in “cardiac arrest before arriving at hospital” – a term used to refer to a person showing no signs of life.

In addition, 72 people were stuck in the wagons and 61 were taken to hospital.

According to the Center in charge of emergency operations, the toll would be less heavy, with 26 people showing “no sign of life”.

UDN, a team of which was on site outside the tunnel, showed footage of at least two undamaged cars and rescuers helping passengers out.

“I had the impression that there was a sudden and violent shock and I fell to the ground”, testified a woman on the channel.

“We broke the window to climb on the roof of the train to get out.”

The train, which carried some 350 passengers and consisted of eight cars, linked Taipei to the town of Taitung, located in the southeast of the island.

The accident happened on Taiwan’s eastern rail line at around 9:30 a.m. (01:30 GMT) near the coastal city of Hualien.

Construction machine

Media reports said the accident was caused by a construction machine slipping off an embankment before hitting the train entering the tunnel.

Photos taken on the spot show the back of a yellow flatbed truck lying on its side, near the train.

The accident happened on the first day of the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a long public holiday weekend when Taiwan’s roads and railways are usually crowded.

During this period, the inhabitants generally return to their native village to clean the graves of their relatives and to make offerings.

Taiwan’s Eastern Railway Line is a popular tourist attraction located along the coastline, a beautiful area.

By borrowing multiple tunnels and bridges, it winds through imposing mountains and very deep gorges before descending the valley of Huadong.

Friday’s crash could be one of the worst rail disasters in Taiwan in decades.

The last major train derailment in Taiwan dates back to 2018, it left 18 people dead in the far south of the same line.

The driver of the eight-car train was then charged with negligent homicide.

More than 200 of the 366 passengers were injured.

The accident was the worst since 1991, when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in Miaoli.

Thirty people were also killed in 1981, when a truck crashed into a passenger train at a level crossing, causing cars to pass over a bridge in Hsinchu.

In 2003, 17 people died and 156 injured when a train on Alishan Mountain fell over a precipice.