‘A scene of terror’: Passengers on derailed Taiwan train tell of narrow escape

YILAN, Taiwan: One man said he had to smash a safety glass to crawl out of his carriage. Another said he hit a wall when the train derailed, and several of his fellow passengers were thrown out of the carriage.

Eighteen people died and 175 were injured when a train derailed in northeastern Taiwan on Sunday (Oct 21), in the island’s worst rail disaster in more than three decades.

Rescuers tend to injured passengers after a train derailed in Yilan

Four carriages overturned in the crash, which occurred in Yilan County near the coast on a line popular among tourists when all eight cars ran off the tracks on a bend near a station, officials said.

It was unclear what caused the crash. As of 9.35pm, all 366 passengers onboard – including the dead and injured – had been evacuated or removed from the wreckage, authorities said.

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"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.

"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.

READ: At least 18 dead, 175 injured after Taiwan train derails

Chang Yi-long, 62, told AFP that he had "heard a loud bang" at the time of the accident while he was working at a construction site nearby.

When he arrived at the scene he saw local residents helping passengers escape the wreckage.

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Video footage broadcast on local Taiwan television showed passengers smashing a window from inside and kicking it through to escape.

"I smashed the safety glass and crawled out and I helped to pull a young man out. There was a person sitting behind me. I’m not sure she survived," a passenger told reporters.

All eight carriages on the Puyuma Express train in Taiwan were derailed and five flipped onto theirAll eight carriages on the Puyuma Express train in Taiwan were derailed and five flipped onto their side in the accident AFP/CNA PHOTO

Hundreds of rescuers and military personnel worked through the wreckage with spotlights on Sunday night in search of survivors, with ambulances stationed nearby.

Rescue workers, some attending to injured people at the scene, used cranes to lift the battered cars, some of which were lined in a zigzag pattern near the tracks.

"Check there, check there," several rescuers shouted while lifting a deformed car with a crane to look for survivors. Some rescuers climbed onto the top of an overturned carriage which had hit a pole carrying electricity.

The official Central News Agency said the incident was the island’s deadliest rail tragedy since 30 were killed in a 1981 collision in northern Taiwan.

"It’s terrifying. I really did not know how it happened. After a scene of terror, the train flipped, the seats were broken and suitcases were all over the place," a seventh-grader with the surname Yang told the news agency.

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“We need to get some water in quickly," a woman was seen shouting in a live broadcast on Facebook shortly after the crush in the late afternoon. Several passengers, who appeared to be suffering from minor injuries, were carried out from a deformed car by local villagers before rescuers arrived, the video showed.

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"We will use all our strength and efforts for the rescue," President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook page.

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.

An American citizen was injured. The authority was checking whether more foreigners were on board.

The derailment came weeks ahead of islandwide local elections that are being seen as a bellwether for Tsai’s ruling party’s performance in presidential elections due in 2020.