YILAN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen offered words of comfort and encouragement on Monday as she met relatives of the 18 dead and 187 injured after a train derailed in the island’s northeast, the worst rail disaster in more than three decades.
Four carriages overturned on Sunday after all eight cars of a train carrying 366 passengers left the tracks on a bend near a railway station in Yilan county, officials said.
“We are really sorry … you have to stay strong,” Tsai told Chen Yu-chan, 41, whose only daughter, a seventh grader, was killed.
“We will do everything we can,” she said to another person, who was sobbing bitterly during Tsai’s visit to a county hospital.
Tsai joined Buddhist monks for prayers in front of an altar adorned with flowers next to the hospital, while nearby, relatives and friends of the victims wept as they sifted through battered suitcases recovered from the train wreck.
Health authorities urged people to urgently donate blood to help treat the large number of injured passengers. Six of the dead were under the age of 18, local authorities said.
One foreigner, an American, was among those injured in the disaster, which the official Central News Agency said was the island’s deadliest rail tragedy since a 1981 collision in northern Taiwan that killed 30 people.
Train services resumed early on Monday, after all the derailed carriages had been moved to one side of the tracks. It was unclear what caused the crash, and authorities said they had launched an investigation to find out.
“The train was in pretty good condition,” Lu Chieh-Shen, deputy chief of the railway administration, told a news conference late on Sunday.
The derailment was not expected to cause any major economic impact.
Tung Xiao-ling, 43, sobbed as she told Reuters how she had lost eight of 17 family members – aged nine to 67 – who were returning from her sister’s wedding celebrations.
“No one can accept that one day you are a bride and the next day you are mourning a family member,” said Tung, who was not on board the train when it crashed.
“I hope they find out what happened as soon as possible. We trusted the safety of Puyuma,” she said, referring to the express train line.
The Puyuma Express is the fastest among Taiwan’s regular trains and went into operation in 2013 to negotiate the tough topography of Taiwan’s east coast.
Hundreds of rescuers and military personnel worked through the night, using spotlights to search the wreckage for survivors, as ambulances waited nearby to take the injured to hospital.
Some rescue workers gave first aid to the injured, while others used cranes to lift some of the battered cars sprawled in a zigzag near the tracks.
“The train was going very fast. I thought to myself: Why was it not slowing down on a curve?” said Henry Tseng, who was riding one of the overturned carriages and suffered eye injuries.
“I hit a wall when the car started to flip,” added the 30-year-old Tseng. “Around five to six people were thrown out of the carriage door…There’s no time to think what happened. Everyone was in a rush to get out.”
On Monday, Chen Tai-liang, whose niece, a seventh grader, was killed, said: “This is something that is not supposed to happen when taking a train.”
“Why did it happen?” he asked, after speaking to Tsai.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in YILAN; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree, Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)