At least 36 people have died after a passenger train smashed into a vehicle on its tracks and partially derailed outside a tunnel in Taiwan.
Dozens more have been injured and survivors climbed out of windows and onto roofs to reach safety in the island’s deadliest ever railway disaster.
Officials in Hualien county said rescue efforts are continuing on the train reportedly carrying more than 400 people. The crash occurred early on a public holiday weekend, and Taiwan’s extensive rail system is popular with people avoiding treacherous mountainous roads.
Most other people on the train have been rescued though rescuers are searching carriages 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 worst ever in terms of death toll.
Mr 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 it crashed into the vehicle at 9.28am 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 by people at the scene on the website of the official Central News Agency showed people climbing out the open door of a carriage just outside the entrance to the tunnel. The inside of one carriage was pushed all the way into the adjacent seat.
In a tweet, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services “have been fully mobilised 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 lines to “prevent this from happening again”.
Taiwan’s last major rail crash was in October 2018 when an express train derailed while rounding a tight corner on the north-east 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 be the worst previous crashes on the railway system that dates from the late 19th century.