Taiwan's worst train crash in decades leaves 51 dead, dozens injured
SEOUL - A train crash in Taiwan killed at least 51 people and injured dozens Friday, authorities said, in the deadliest railway accident in decades on the island.
A construction truck that was improperly parked on a slope rolled down and collided with a passenger train on Friday morning, leaving it derailed in a tunnel on Taiwan's east coast, according to Taiwan's official Central News Agency (CNA).
Photos from the scene showed the train tilted inside the tunnel, with pieces of crushed metal surrounding it. Survivors climbed out of the train's windows to escape.
The tragedy was heightened as Friday was the first day of the Tomb Sweeping Festival, an annual commemoration in Taiwan and some other parts of Asia of family members who have died. Many of Taiwan's 24 million people were set to travel domestically over the long weekend.
The train had 374 seats but was carrying almost 500 people, with many passengers standing in the crowded cars, Taiwanese officials told local media outlets.
The accident has raised concerns about Taiwan's transportation safety, after another deadly train crash three years earlier. In 2018, 18 people were killed and 215 injured when a train derailed in northeastern Taiwan.
On Friday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen ordered an investigation of the cause of the crash and a rapid effort to save the trapped and injured. The last two people trapped were rescued Friday afternoon.
"All relevant units are working all-out in the rescue mission," she said in a statement posted on Facebook.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang expressed his condolences to the passengers and their families, according to the official Radio Taiwan International.
Wei Yu-Ling, secretary general of the Taiwan Railway Union, said in an interview that she hoped Taiwan's government would follow through with its call for a thorough investigation. In February, two railway maintenance workers were killed and another was seriously injured when they were hit by a train.
"Compared to the Taipei Metro and the Taiwan High Speed Rail in Taiwan, the Taiwan Railways Administration has a relatively high frequency of accidents," Wei said.
Friday's crash took place in Taiwan's scenic Hualien county on the east coast, one of the island's most popular areas for tourists. In 2019, before coronavirus pandemic shutdowns began, the nearby Taroko Gorge national park received 4.8 million visitors.
Trains are a popular choice for travel in the region, with the curving mountain roads making for difficult driving.
One taxi driver in the area, Yang Yi-chung, reported on Facebook that a bus had ferried some of the survivors back to Hualien Station. A shellshocked father and son, surnamed Huang, got into his cab, he said.
"Those in the carriages stuck in the tunnel, some broke the windows, some climbed on the roofs, some were covered in blood, some were looking for their relatives," Yang recalled one of the passengers saying.
Taiwan's National Fire Agency said Friday evening that 51 people died in the crash and 146 were injured.
The operator of the construction truck that caused the accident was taken to a police station for questioning, according to CNA.