TAIPEI, Taiwan — A vehicle rolled down a hill and smashed into a passing train, partially derailing it outside a rail tunnel in Taiwan and killing at least 36 people and injuring dozens. Survivors climbed out windows and onto roofs to reach safety in Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster,AP reported .
Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts were continuing on the train that officials said was carrying more than 400 people. The crash occurred early on a public weekend along Taiwan’s extensive rail system that’s popular with people avoiding treacherous mountainous roads.
Most other people on the train have been rescued though emergency personnel were searching wrecked cars for “several people” who may be stuck in awkward places, railways news officer Weng Hui-ping said. He said the 36 confirmed dead was Taiwan’s deadliest railway disaster.
Weng said a construction site truck operated by the railway administration slid onto the track from a work site on the hillside above. The truck was off duty at the time. He said the speed of the train was uncertain when the vehicle crashed into it at 9:28 a.m. near the Toroko Gorge scenic area.
The train had only partially emerged from the tunnel, and with much of it still inside, escaping passengers were forced to scale doors, windows and roofs to reach safety.
Television footage and photos posted from 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.
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.”
The accident came on the first day of the four-day Tomb Sweeping Festival, an annual religious festival when people travel to their hometowns for family gatherings and to worship at the graves of their ancestors.
Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said the Railways Administration would be required to immediately conduct checks along other track line to “prevent this from happening again.”
About 50 volunteers from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation stationed at an aid tent near the crash site said children were among the dozens who escaped the train cars so far. They were treating minor wounds and offering lunches.
“We see people coming off the train and they look shaken and nervous,” said Chen Tzu-chong, at Tzu Chi team leader on site.
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 another accident a decade earlier had also killed 30. Those were said to the worst previous crashes on the railway system that dates from the late 19th century.