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Taiwan mourns the victims of one of its worst rail disasters

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Relatives of the victims of Taiwan’s worst rail disaster in decades prayed at the crash site on Saturday, as rescue teams scrambled to evacuate the tangled cars.

Authorities said Friday’s collision, which killed at least 50 people and injured more than 170, was caused by a construction machine which, after slipping off an embankment, struck the train carrying around 500 passengers who were about to enter a tunnel near the coastal town of Hualien.

The driver of the truck, who railway officials said may not have properly applied the handbrake, was released on bail after being questioned by magistrates, who banned him from leaving Taiwan in the awaiting further investigation.

A ceremony

Around 100 relatives of the victims took part in a moving Taoist prayer ceremony on Saturday afternoon near the scene of the collision.

Tears rolled down their faces, some improvising makeshift memorials on which were inscribed the names of the deceased, others chanting the names of their missing.

A French and an American are among the foreigners killed, according to the authorities, the youngest victim being 4 years old. Rescuers described a horrifying scene when they entered the narrow tunnel and found the front of the train turned into a heap of sheet metal.

“Car 8 suffered the most serious damage and that’s where the most deaths were,” Chang Zi-chen, a rescue worker, told reporters on Saturday. “Basically, more than half of the wagon was gutted and the bodies were all stacked on top of each other,” he added.

Hours of extracting the bodies

Specialist teams spent hours on Friday extracting the bodies of the dead and survivors, and attention shifted Saturday to the removal of the cars that are now blocking half of the only railway line on the west coast of Taiwan, a popular mountainous tourist region.

The Interior Ministry ordered the flags to be half-masted for three days, while the President of the Republic Tsai Ing-wen visited the wounded in hospitals in Hualien.

“The authorities are making all possible efforts in the hope of minimizing the impact of the disaster so that the deceased can rest in peace and the injured recover quickly,” she told reporters.

At this time of year, Taiwanese usually return to their hometown to honor the graves of loved ones and make offerings.

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