Taiwan authorities have sought an arrest warrant for the driver of a construction vehicle that is alleged to be the cause of train derailment which killed at least 50 people.
The Taroko Express was carrying almost 500 people down the island’s east coast on Friday, the first day of a religious festival when families gather to honour their ancestors, when it crashed in a tunnel just outside Hualien city.
Police believe the train hit a truck which had slid down an embankment from a maintenance work site on to the tracks. The front carriages of the train derailed and piled up inside the tunnel, crushing against the walls, splitting and tearing apart.
Dozens were killed, including the 33-year-old train driver, a six-year-old girl, and a French national. More than 70 others were trapped inside for hours, while other survivors broke windows and crawled along the train roof to escape.
The driver of the truck was not in it at the time it slid down, and police suspected it had been “parked improperly”. He was taken in for questioning on Friday afternoon, and Hualien prosecutors office director, Yu Hsiu-duan, later told reporters an arrest warrant had been sought.
“To preserve relevant evidence, we have several groups of prosecutors at the scene and they are searching the necessary places,” said Yu.
More than 150 people were injured in the crash, and 48 people were pronounced dead at the scene. Two of the injured later died in hospital.
Authorities warned the death toll could still rise, because some body parts were yet to be properly identified. A rescuer at the crash site also said they weren’t sure if more bodies might still be in the wrecked carriages still stuck inside the tunnel.
A Red Cross Society rescuer told local media the scene on arrival was “like a living hell”, and suggested there were a number of children and infants among the dead.
“Chairs were mangled, objects were scattered all over the floor, and blood was everywhere,” Lin Chi-feng told CNA.
“It was heartbreaking to see so many children and infants die in the accident,” he said.
All survivors were freed from the wreckage by Friday afternoon, and salvage crews began to clear the rear carriages from the track on Saturday, but the damaged carriages remained stuck inside the tunnel. Rail authorities said it would take another week to clear the site and resume services.
Taiwan’s government ordered all flags to be lowered to half-mast for three days, to honour the victim of the worst rail disaster to strike the island in decades. President Tsai Ing-wen was expected to visit injured survivors in hospitals on Saturday.