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51 killed as train derails inside tunnel in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan: At least 51 people were killed and dozens injured after a packed train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday morning. Authorities said this the worst train crash on the island in decades.

The train was carrying around 350 passengers derailed inside a tunnel in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Centre said rescuers were struggling to access four carriages inside the tunnel that are “badly damaged”.

The train was making its way from the capital Taipei to the city of Taitung.

Dozens of tourists were said to be on board, many of whom were celebrating the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The train is believed to have derailed at around 09:00 local time (01:00 GMT). Local media reports say the accident occurred when a maintenance vehicle fell onto its path.

Pictures online showed people in unaffected carriages walking along train tracks with their belongings.

“It felt like there was a sudden violent jolt and I found myself falling to the floor,” an unidentified female survivor told Taiwan’s UDN.

“We broke the window to climb to the roof of the train to get out.”

Friday’s crash is looking to be the island’s worst rail disaster in decades.

The last major train derailment in Taiwan was in 2018, which left 18 people dead. The island’s worst crash in recent history was in 1991 when 30 passengers were killed and 112 injured after two trains collided.

Many of those on the train are believed to be tourists celebrating the Tomb Sweeping festival – a time when people visit the graves of friends and family, sprucing them up and making offerings to their spirits.

People typically travel during this time to pay their respects to the dead. Local media reports say the train driver is among the dead.

On Twitter, the island’s president Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services had been “fully mobilised” to rescue and assist passengers and railway staff.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident,” she wrote.

Friday marks the start of the tomb-sweeping day, known as Qing Ming, and the beginning of a long holiday weekend in Taiwan when thousands of people are expected to travel across the island to clean the graves of their ancestors and use their free time to visit popular tourist sites like Taroko National Park.

Hualien is a popular scenic town next to eastern Taiwan’s famed Taroko Gorge, and Taiwan’s eastern railway line is a popular tourist draw because of its dramatic coastline and scenery.

Taiwan’s last major railway accident was in 2018 when a passenger train in eastern Taiwan’s Yilan derailed, leaving 18 people dead. In 1990, 30 were killed in Miaoli when two trains collided. More than 100 people were injured.