WENZHOU, China — Rescue workers dug through the tangled wreckage on Sunday 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 happened on Saturday after one train lost power due to a lightning strike, and the bullet train behind crashed into it, state media 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 south of Beijing, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday. China News Service, a semi-official news agency, said one of them was a woman in her 20s.
Dozens of rescue workers and firefighters used excavators to move the wreckage of the two trains as they believed more bodies were in one of the carriages that was dangling beside the bridge. It was unclear how many people were on the trains at the time of the accident.
"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. "Also, we are trying to get the railway line to be operational again."
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 flagship Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line suffered a series of power outages since it opened to great fanfare a month ago.
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang arrived on the scene to help with the relief work and investigation, state television reported. 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, a government statement said.
China's rail network has also been hit by a series of scandals. Three railway officials have been investigated for corruption this year, according to local media reports.
In February, Liu Zhijun was sacked as railways minister for "serious disciplinary violations". He had led the rail sector's investment drive over the past decade.
Chinese internet users took to the popular Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo to vent their anger about the accident, with some calling for Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu to resign, posting his picture online with a large red cross through it.
"The Railways Ministry should realise that passengers are not just little white mice," wrote Yang Chunxiao.
"Do you think officials are really trying to help? It's all for show," added A Cige.
"FLYING INTO THE AIR"
One train was heading from Beijing to the coastal city of Fuzhou, and the other was running from Hangzhou to Fuzhou.
Both trains were made by China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp Ltd (CSR) .
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 saw 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 but the passengers "didn't think it was so serious."
"Only when we got down, we saw so many train carriages falling down," Yu said.
The railway ministry said it would learn from the lesson once it finds the cause of the accident, Xinhua reported.
"The railways ministry ... will resolutely prevent similar accidents from happening again," a ministry spokesman Wang Yongping 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.
© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.