A passenger train partially derailed outside a rail tunnel along Taiwan’s east coast, killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens, local police said. Survivors were climbing out windows and on to roofs to reach safety.
The train, packed with about 350 passengers, had reportedly hit a maintenance truck in what has been described as the island’s worst rail disaster in at least four decades.
Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts were continuing.
The crash occurred near the Toroko Gorge scenic area around 9am local time on a public holiday.
Reports said a truck fell from a cliff above and landed on the tracks, where a train emerging from a tunnel smashed into it. With much of the train still trapped in the tunnel, escaping passengers were forced to scale doors, windows and roofs to reach safety.
The truck apparently hit after the locomotive had emerged, causing the greatest damage to cars 1-5, according to the rescue department of Hualien county.
Television footage and photos posted by people at the scene on the website of the official Central News Agency showed people climbing out the open door of a railcar just outside the entrance to the tunnel. The inside of one car was pushed all the way into the adjacent seat.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said she had ordered hospitals to prepare for a mass casualty event.
“In response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan, our emergency services have been fully mobilised to rescue and assist the passengers and railway staff affected,” she said in a Twitter post on Friday.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”
A live broadcast by UDN, a local news website, outside the tunnel showed at least two undamaged train carriages with rescuers helping passengers escape.
“It felt like there was a sudden violent jolt and I found myself falling to the floor,” an unidentified female survivor told the network.
“We broke the window to climb to the roof of the train to get out.”
The accident came on the first day of the four-day Tomb Sweeping Festival.
Taiwan’s last major rail crash was in October 2018 when an express train derailed while rounding a tight corner on the northeast coast, killing at least 18 people and injuring nearly 200.
In 1991, a collision in western Taiwan killed 30 people and injured 112 in its deadliest train accident.
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