HONG KONG -- At least 54 people are reported dead after a passenger train derailed in a tunnel near the city of Hualien in eastern Taiwan, according to local authorities. The crash is the worst rail disaster in more than 30 years.
The Railway Police Bureau said there were about 350 passengers aboard a Taroko Express train at the time of the accident.
Authorities said that at least 156 people are injured and that number is expected to rise.
The eight-car No. 408 Taroko train was traveling from Taipei to the eastern coastal city of Taitung on Friday when it derailed at 9:28 a.m. local time. The government-run Central News Agency said a maintenance truck that was “not parked properly” was suspected of sliding into the path of the train.
Several carriages hit the walls of the tunnel when the train made impact with the truck, authorities said.
Local media reports suggest that while the second and third cars derailed, carriages five to eight have sustained significant damage inside the tunnel, hampering rescue efforts.
“In response to a train derailment in Hualien, Taiwan, our emergency services have been fully mobilized to rescue & assist the passengers & railway staff affected," Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen tweeted. "We will continue to do everything we can to ensure their safety in the wake of this heartbreaking incident.”
Friday is the first day of a four-day weekend in Taiwan, with people celebrating the Qingming festival. Many Taiwanese are expected to be flocking to popular holiday areas on the east coast of the island.