At least 48 people were killed and over a hundred injured after a packed express train derailed in a tunnel in eastern Taiwan on Friday morning, the country’s Central News Agency reported, in the worst train crash on the island in at least 40 years.
At least 70 other people are also believed to be trapped in the wreckage.
The transport ministry also said some 40 injured passengers had already been sent to hospital with others in the process of being admitted. About people are thought to remain trapped.
Emergency services earlier reported “multiple persons with no vital signs” of life.
The Central Emergency Operation Center said rescuers were trying to get to four carriages inside the tunnel that were badly damaged and difficult to access.
A brief video released by the centre from inside the tunnel showed rescuers arriving on the scene and a twisted carriage door.
Images showed an injured passenger being stretched out of the crash scene, her head and neck in a brace, passengers gathering suitcases and bags in a tilted, derailed carriage and others walking out of the tunnel on the roof of the train.
The eight carriage train, on its way from Taipei to Taitung and carrying 350 people, came off the tracks at 9:28 am (01:28 GMT) in a tunnel north of Hualien, according to the Taiwan Railways Administration. The service was so busy that some people were forced to stand and thrown through the air as it derailed.
Taiwan’s minister of transport and communications Lin Chia-lung said on Twitter he was on his way to the scene of the accident.
“I have instructed the Taiwan Railways to set up a first-level disaster response center,” he said. “I am also rushing to the response center.”
A preliminary investigation suggested that the train hit a truck belonging to an engineering maintenance team, which had rolled onto the track after its brakes failed, Taiwan Railways said.
Cars two and three appeared to have jumped the tracks, and smashed into the tunnel wall, according to CNA.
On Twitter, the island’s president Tsai Ing-wen said emergency services had been “fully mobilized” 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 tomb-sweeping day, known as Qing Ming, and the beginning of a long holiday weekend in Taiwan when thousands of people usually 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, which opened in 1978, is a popular tourist draw because of its dramatic coast line and scenery.