At least 48 people have been killed and 66 injured after a passenger train smashed into a truck and then derailed outside a tunnel in Taiwan.
Survivors were seen climbing out of windows and onto roofs to reach safety on Friday after what was the island’s deadliest ever rail disaster.
The train was travelling from Taipei to Taitung carrying almost 500 passengers, among them tourists and people heading home at the start of a long weekend, when it came off the rails north of Hualien in eastern Taiwan, officials said.
Local media reports say many people were standing as the train was so full and so were thrown about when it crashed.
“People just fell all over each other, on top of one another,” one female survivor told local TV. “It was terrifying. There were whole families there.”
Images from the scene show carriages inside the tunnel torn apart from the impact, while others had crumpled, impeding the work of rescuers trying to reach the passengers. Only two people remained trapped as of mid-afternoon local time.
The train had not fully emerged from the tunnel, and with much of it still inside escaping passengers were forced to scale doors, windows and roofs to reach safety.
The transport minister, Lin Chia-lung, told reporters on the scene that the train was carrying about 490 people – higher than an earlier fire department figure of 350.
Around 50 volunteers from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation stationed at an aid tent near the crash site said children were among the dozens who had 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, the Tzu Chi team leader on site.
The official Central News Agency said a truck whose handbrake was not engaged was suspected of sliding off a sloping road into the path of the train, and that police had taken in the driver for questioning.
The fire department showed a picture of what appeared to be the truck’s wreckage lying next to the derailed train, and an aerial image of the end of the train sitting on the track next to a construction site.
“Our train crashed into a truck,” one man said in a video aired on local television, showing pictures of the wreckage. “The truck came falling down.”
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, tweeted too ay emergency services “have been fully mobilised to rescue and assist the passengers and 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 where people travel to their hometowns for family gatherings and to worship at the graves of their ancestors.
Taiwan’s last major crash was in October 2018, when 18 people were killed and 175 injured after a train derailed while turning a tight corner on the north-east coast. In 1981, 30 were killed in a collision in northern Taiwan and in 1991 another 30 died in a train crash.
Additional reporting by agencies