At least 34 killed as train derails in Taiwan

A rescue worker at the site after a train derailed in a tunnel north of Hualien Taiwan on Friday | REUTERS

At least 41 people have died and up to 200 remain trapped after a train carrying almost 500 people crashed and then derailed in a tunnel in Taiwan.

The Japanese government said Friday the country is ready to consider helping Taiwan if requested following a deadly train accident on the island that resulted in dozens of casualties. He said the speed of the train was not known.

The fire department showed a picture of what appeared to be wreckage of the truck beside the derailed train, with an aerial image of one end of the train still on the track next to the construction site.

"This is our initial understanding and we are clarifying the cause of the incident", he added. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen issued a statement saying "rescuing those trapped is our highest priority now".

A rescue team helps stranded passengers down from the roof of the train.

The accident occurred on Taiwan's eastern railway line around 9:30 a.m. (0130 GMT) near the coastal city of Hualien.

Pictures published by local news website UDN showed the front of the train inside the tunnel had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal.

Rescuers worked for hours to reach those trapped inside the tunnel and haul them out.

Photos and video taken after the crash showed a scene of cars torn apart inside the tunnel and passengers crawling out of the wreckage. One French citizen was amongst the dead, officials said.

Many people may have been standing because the train was so full.

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"It felt like there was a sudden violent jolt and I found myself falling to the floor", an unidentified female survivor told the network.

Images showed an injured passenger carried away on a stretcher, with her head and neck in a brace, while others gathered suitcases and bags in a tilted, derailed carriage as some walked on the train's roof to exit the tunnel.

CNN reports that the eight-car train was headed to Taitung when it came off the rails in a tunnel just north of Hualien.

The train derailed near the Taroko Gorge scenic area on the first day of a long holiday weekend when many people were using Taiwan's extensive rail system.

During the festival, people return to ancestral villages to tidy up the tombs of their relatives and make offerings. The lightly populated east where the crash happened is popular with tourists, many of whom travel there by train to avoid mountain roads.

Taiwan's state-owned railways are generally reliable and efficient, but have had a patchy safety record over the years.

In 2018, 18 people died and 175 were injured when a train derailed in northeastern Taiwan.

The driver of the eight-carriage train was later charged with negligent homicide. Authorities say at least 51 people are dead and more than 140 others are injured.

A collision between two trains resulted in 30 deaths and 112 injuries.

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