TAIPEI, Taiwan – A small train overturned in Taiwan’s Ali Mountain area on Wednesday, killing at least five tourists and injuring more than 100 as of 11:00 p.m. local time.
The deceased, all female, were confirmed to be mainland tourists from tour groups, according to Taiwan authorities.
Sources with the Chiayi fire department say a tree branch had broken and fallen over the railway line, which hit the last carriage and then caused several carriages to overturn.
“There was a loud clattering sound, and we thought it was an earthquake. But later we knew that huge tree branches smashed into a carriage,” recalled Chen Zhenbin, 58, from the Wenzhou city in eastern Zhejiang Province, after being sent to the St. Martin De Porres Hospital in Chiayi.
Chen told Xinhua that he and his two sisters were sitting in the eighth carriage when the accident happened.
“The sixth, seventh and eighth carriages were overturned, but our carriage was stopped by the trees at the side of the road and didn’t roll too far,” Chen said, adding that the three of the passengers later climbed out of the upside-down carriage.
“I heard tourists in the sixth and seventh carriages shouting for help. We went there quickly and helped pull people out. But still, some were crushed under the carriage and didn’t stand a chance,” Chen said.
As of 11:00 p.m., a total of 112 members from the tour groups, including the five deceased and 18 seriously injured, had been sent to nearby hospitals, according to Xinhua’s tally based on Taiwan authorities and the Chiayi county government.
A spokesperson with the St. Martin De Porres Hospital told Xinhua that among 40 received by the hospital, one died prior to arrival and the rest were in a stable condition. Most of them had minor wounds such as bruises on faces and limbs.
“We will save the injured at all costs with the Taiwan side,” said Liu Kezhi, director of the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association’s Taipei office, as he visited the hospital.
Earlier on Wednesday, Liu reported the accident to the association and asked Taiwan’s related department to make its best efforts to take care of the injured mainland tourists.
The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council and the National Tourism Administration immediately launched an emergency procedure to handle the accident.
The Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits also contacted the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), urging all-out rescue efforts from Taiwan’s relevant departments.
The departments of the mainland would keep in contact with their Taiwan counterparts, actively safeguard the rights and interests of mainland tourists and properly handle the aftermath of the accident, according to a press release by the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council on Wednesday evening.
Ali Mountain, or Alishan, is one of Taiwan’s premier tourist attractions for mainland tourists. Nine years ago a similar train accident occurred near to the location of Wednesday’s accident, killing 17 people and injuring more than 150.
The Alishan rail line, running east from the southern city of Chiayi, goes through steep mountains.
Taiwan’s Travel Agent Association said Wednesday that it will make all-out efforts to assist the relatives of these mainland tourists to come to the island to deal with consequent matters.
Yao Ta-kuang, chairman of the association, said at a news conference earlier on Wednesday that Taiwan should conduct a thorough review of the safety issues regarding its tourist attractions and nearby roads, citing a bus accident last year which also involved mainland tourists.
Last October, 19 tourists from southern coastal city of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, went missing after a landslide hit their bus during a storm in northeast Taiwan.
“In order to operate tourism well, we have to give tourists a sense of security,” Yao said, expressing hopes that Wednesday’s accident won’t affect mainland tourists’ expectations for their Taiwan trips.
According to Taiwan authorities, 1.82 million mainland tourists visited the island on tour packages from July 2008 to the end of 2010.