At least 18 people have been killed and 171 others injured after an express train derailed in northeast Taiwan, the island’s worst rail accident for more than 20 years.
The Puyuma express train was carrying more than 366 passengers from a suburb of Taipei towards the southern city of Taitung, when it went off the tracks at 4:50pm (08:50 GMT) local time on Sunday, the Taiwan central government said in a statement.
The National Fire Agency initially said 22 people died in the accident, but later lowered the toll to 18, saying there was a mistake in calculations.
All of the train’s eight carriages had derailed and five had flipped onto their side near Xinma station, railway officials said.
“The train was going very fast. I thought to myself: Why was it not slowing down on a curve?” 30-year-old Henry Tseng, who was onboard one of the overturned carriages and suffered eye injuries, told Reuters news agency.
“I hit a wall when the car started to flip. Around five to six people were thrown out of the carriage door…There’s no time to think what happened. Everyone was in a rush to get out,” he added.
Some passengers were crushed to death, Ministry of National Defense spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.
“Their train car turned over. They were crushed, so they died right away,” Chen said.
Soldiers have been removing bodies to identify them, he added, but nightfall was complicating rescue work.
Photos from the scene just south of the city of Luodong showed the train’s eight cars in a zig-zag formation near the tracks. Five of the cars are turned over on their sides.
One passenger told Apple Daily Taiwan that the train had put on its “emergency brake” twice on the journey and that the electricity supply had been patchy.
Hong Kong‘s broadcaster RTHK reported another passenger saying the train had been preparing to accelerate before overturning and had been shaking intensely, adding that some passengers were asleep at the time of the accident.
The defence ministry said it had sent in 120 soldiers to help the rescue.
An investigation was under way to find out the cause of the crash, Taiwan Railways Administration said.
“The train was in pretty good condition,” its Deputy Chief Lu Chieh-Shen told a news conference.
President Tsai Ing-wen described the accident as a “major tragedy” in a tweet Sunday evening.
“My thoughts are with all the victims and their families,” she added.
The crash was the worst rail accident in Taiwan since 1991 when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided in northern Miaoli county.