WENZHOU, China, July 24 (Reuters) – Rescue workers on Sunday dug through the tangled wreckage after a high-speed train smashed into a stalled train in eastern China, killing at least 35 and injuring 210 in China’s deadliest train disaster since 2008.
The crash occurred on Saturday after the first train lost power due to a lightning strike and a bullet train following behind crashed into it, state television said, raising new questions about the safety of the fast-growing rail network.
Two foreigners also died in the accident, which took place on a bridge near the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, some 860 miles (1,380 kms) south of Beijing, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday. China News Service, a semi-official news agency, said one of them was a female in her 20s.
The government of Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang, was not available for comment.
Rescuers said they were still looking for survivors, trying to reach the broken carriages lying under the bridge.
“The task for us now is to clear the debris and also to check for survivors in those areas that we have not gone to,” said 35-year-old rescue worker Wang Jun.
“Right now, we still don’t know whether there are any more survivors. That’s is our main task now. Also, we are trying to get the railway line to be operational again.”
Dozens of rescue workers and firefighters used excavators to move the wreckage of the two trains as they believe more bodies were in one of the carriages that was dangling beside the bridge. It was unclear how many were on the trains at the time of the accident.
Rail remains the most popular method of long-distance transport in China and trains are usually extremely crowded, with long-distance trains carrying as many as 1,000 passengers.
The reliability of China’s railways has been called into question recently after the series of power outages on the flagship Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line, which has left passengers stranded on stuffy trains for hours at least three times since opening a month ago.
Chinese authorities suspended 21 trains after the collision, state news agency Xinhua said.
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang is rushing to the scene to help out in the relief work and investigation, Xinhua added. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao also called for all-out efforts to rescue passengers and ordered to make rescue work a priority, according to a government statement.
“FLYING INTO THE AIR”
One train was heading from Beijing to the coastal city of Fuzhou, the other was running from Hangzhou, also to Fuzhou.
The total power failure on Saturday rendered useless an electronic safety system designed to warn following trains of stalled trains on the tracks up ahead, and automatically halt them before a collision can occur.
The force of the collision sent “the head of the train flying into the air,” said Cai Qi, a 30-year-old villager who witnessed the accident and rescued five children, four women and one man. “Some of them had their hands or legs broken. Some were crushed inside debris and we pushed and carried them out.”
Survivors took refuge at a middle school on Saturday night, which served as an emergency and information centre for relatives looking for their missing kin. Some cried as they went through the list of injured. Many survivors looked shaken.
“Suddenly, there was a loud bang,” said 32-year-old survivor Yin Caohui. “After that, the train broke. It was all dark and we could not see anything. Then there were a few loud sounds again.”
A 31-year-old survivor, who gave his last name as Yu, said the train stopped suddenly and the lights immediately went off, adding that the passengers “didn’t think it was so serious.”
“Only when we got down, did we see that there were so many train carriages that had fallen down,” Yu said.
China’s last major train disaster was in 2008, when an express train travelling from Beijing to the eastern coastal city of Qingdao derailed and collided with another train, killing 72 and injuring 416 people.