Death toll rises after Taiwan train crash, French national among the victims

Rescuers work at the site a day after a deadly train derailment at a tunnel north of Hualien, Taiwan on 3 April, 2021.
Rescuers work at the site a day after a deadly train derailment at a tunnel north of Hualien, Taiwan on 3 April, 2021. © Reuters/Ann Wang

Officials in Taiwan said the death toll from Friday's devastating train collision has reached at least 50 people, including a French national, and injured more than 170. Relatives of victims gathered on Saturday for a prayer ceremony near the crash site, while specialist teams worked to remove debris.


Taiwanese officials said Friday's collision was caused when a parked railway maintenance vehicle slipped down an embankment and onto the tracks.

A train packed with as many as 500 people at the start of a long holiday weekend hit the truck then just as it entered a narrow tunnel near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

Friday's crash took place at the start of the Tomb-Sweeping Festival, a four-day public holiday when many Taiwanese return to villages to tidy the graves of their ancestors.

Taiwan's eastern railway line is a popular tourist draw down its less populated eastern coastline.

With the help of multiple tunnels and bridges, it winds its way through towering mountains and dramatic gorges before entering the picturesque Huadong Valley.

A French and an American national were among the foreigners killed, authorities said. The youngest victim was 4-years-old.

The truck driver -- who railway officials said may have failed to secure the parking brake properly -- has been released on bail after being interrogated by prosecutors and is barred from leaving Taiwan pending further investigation.

Rescuers described an appalling scene as they rushed into the tunnel and found the front of the train pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.

"Car number eight had the most serious injuries and number of deaths," rescue worker Chang Zi-chen told reporters on Saturday, referring to the most forward passenger car.

"Basically more than half of the carriage was split open and bodies were all piled up together."

Cranes used in rescue operation

Specialist teams spent hours extracting victims and survivors on Friday.

On Saturday, focus shifted to removing carriages now blocking one half of the sole train line down Taiwan's remote and mountainous eastern coastline.

Two giant cranes were being used to move the carriages and rescuers said further bodies might still be found inside the most damaged cars inside the tunnel.

Around one hundred relatives held an emotional Taoist prayer ceremony near the crash site on Saturday afternoon, shaded under a canopy of black umbrellas.

Many wept openly as they surveyed the scene, some holding makeshift shrines inscribed with the names of those who died.

The Interior Ministry ordered all flags to be lowered to half-mast for three days while President Tsai Ing-wen visited the wounded in Hualien's hospitals.

Friday's crash looks set to be one of Taiwan's worst railway accidents on record. The last major train derailment in Taiwan was in 2018 and left 18 people dead on the same eastern line.

(with AFP)


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