HUALIEN COUNTY, Taiwan (AP) – Taiwan prosecutors on Saturday requested an arrest warrant for the owner of an unmanned truck that rolled onto a railroad track and caused the country’s worst rail disaster in decades, killing 50 people. and wounding 178.
The train was carrying 494 people at the start of a long holiday weekend on Friday when it crashed into the construction truck, the Taiwan Railway Administration said. The truck’s emergency brake was not set properly, according to the government’s disaster relief center.
The accident happened just before the train entered a tunnel, and many passengers were crushed inside the wrecked carriages. With much of the train stuck inside the tunnel, some survivors were forced to climb out the windows and walk along the roof of the train to safety.
Authorities initially reported 51 deaths, but revised the countdown to one on Saturday. Among the dead was an American citizen. Another US citizen who was on the train was reported missing, according to a statement from the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry.
Yu Hsiu-duan, chief prosecutor in eastern Hualien County, where the train derailed, said they were seeking an arrest warrant for the truck’s owner, who was questioned along with several others. It did not offer details, citing an ongoing investigation.
The Hualien District Court allowed the truck owner to post a bond of New Taiwan $ 500,000 (US $ 17,516), but he must remain in the county and avoid contact with witnesses, the Taiwan Central News Agency reported.
President Tsai Ing-wen visited hospitals near the accident rather than the site itself so as not to interfere with rescue work, her spokeswoman said.
“This heartbreaking accident resulted in many injuries and deaths. I came to Hualien today to visit the injured and express my condolences to the families of the deceased passengers, ”Tsai said. “We will surely help them later.”
Tsai told reporters on Friday that he asked the Transportation Safety Committee to carry out a strict investigation.
Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung said repairs will be accelerated.
“When something like this happens, I am very sorry and will take full responsibility,” Lin said after touring the site.
Workers pulled the two most backward cars off the tracks on Saturday morning. However, a third could not be moved before the tracks were repaired while the other five cars were still wedged into the tunnel. Two large construction cranes could be seen positioned next to the train in a remote area on the east coast of the island.
The operation should take place within a week, said Weng Hui-ping, head of the railway administration news group. During the repairs, all east coast trains will run on a track parallel to the one damaged in the accident, causing delays of 15 to 20 minutes, he said.
The National Fire Service said among the dead were the young, newlywed train conductor and the assistant conductor. The government’s disaster response center said it was the worst rail disaster since a train caught fire in suburban Taipei in 1948, killing 64 people.
Train rides are popular during Taiwan’s grave-cleaning holidays, which last four days, when families often return to their hometowns to pay their respects at the graves of their elders.
Taiwan is a mountainous island, and the majority of its 24 million people live in the plains along the north and west coasts that are home to most of the agricultural land, the largest cities, and the high-tech industries of the Island. The sparsely populated east where the accident occurred is popular with tourists, many of whom travel there by train to avoid mountain roads.
Jennings reported from Taipei, Taiwan.