Rescue workers work at the derailed train near Taroko Gorge in Hualien, Taiwan on Friday, April 2, 2021. The train partially…
Rescue crews work at the derailed train near Taroko Gorge in Hualien, Taiwan, April 2, 2021. The train partially derailed in eastern Taiwan on Friday after colliding with an unmanned vehicle that had rolled down a hill.

At least 50 people were killed and more than 150 were injured Friday when an express train emerged from a tunnel and derailed in eastern Taiwan.

Hundreds of passengers were aboard the Taroko Express, which was traveling to Taitung, in southern Taiwan, from New Taipei City. It derailed near Hualien on the east coast. An unattended construction truck slipped down a slope and collided with the fast-moving train, according to reports.

Among the dead were the train driver and the driver’s assistant. Dozens of survivors of the wreck were being treated in nearby hospitals. Several were reported in critical condition.

Widespread reports said there were nearly 500 passengers aboard, well beyond the train’s 376-seat capacity, suggesting many passengers were standing at the time of the crash. An earlier video aired by Taiwan’s United Daily News, however, included a statement by Taiwan Railway Hualien Transportation Department Director Wu Jintian that the train was nearly full. 

Dozens of passengers were trapped inside rail cars inside the tunnel after the accident, but by 6.30 p.m. local time there were no passengers left in the cars. Recovery workers were seen taking bodies from the scene.

Later, Hong Ming-hui, a nephew of a 55-year-old woman who died, spoke to VOA as he waited to identify his relative’s body.

Rescue workers go through a shift change at the derailed train near the Taroko Gorge area in Hualien, Taiwan, April 2, 2021.

“She is my aunt. She works as a shopkeeper at a wet market in Hualien,” he said.

“I accompanied my mom to the scene. The rescuers successfully removed the body from the wreckage at around 2 p.m. today and at that time there were around 20 to 30 rescuers conducting the operation,” he added. “My mom and I were unable to recognize her, since her face was severely damaged. The only thing [with which] I was able to confirm her identity was the bracelet around her hand. I feel really bad, but that’s the reality we face.

“For now, we are waiting for the authorities to conduct [an] examination of the body.”

'Mangled' bodies

Ku Tsai-Yi, a worker at the Hualien City Funeral Home, told VOA the bodies of those recovered were in grim condition and included children.

“The bodies and remains recovered were in bad shape and badly mangled, while some of them were disassembled and disintegrated. Not even the police or inspectors were able to identify them,” said Ku. "And I have seen remains of a kid. I am deeply saddened by what I have witnessed. There were youngsters, kids, the elderly and others, but they were sadly departed.”

A section of a derailed train is seen cordoned off near the Taroko Gorge area in Hualien, Taiwan, April 2, 2021.

Witnesses said workers were still on the scene as of 8 p.m. Friday local time.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called the crash a “heartbreaking incident.”

“In response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan, our emergency services have been fully mobilized to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected,” she wrote on Twitter. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”

Friday’s tragedy happened near the popular tourist destination of Taroko National Park. Many passengers on the train were tourists returning home to celebrate the annual Tomb Sweeping Day, where Taiwanese families remember their ancestors by cleaning and offering sacrifices that may benefit the dead.

The body of a victim of a train crash in Hualien, Taiwan, is carried from the scene, April 2, 2021, (Walid Berrazeg/VOA)

Previous crashes

In 2018, Taiwan suffered its last major train crash in Yilan County, which killed 18 and injured 187 people. Prior to that, 30 were killed in a train crash in Miaoli County in 1991.

Taiwan is a self-ruled democracy with a population of more than 23 million.

China considers Taiwan as part of its territory despite its break at the end of China’s civil war in 1949, when nationalist forces were driven off the mainland by communist forces and fled to the island.

Tommy Walker reported from Bangkok. Walid Berrazeg and Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi  contributed to this report from Taiwan.