China train crash kills 66, injures hundreds

Two passenger trains collided in eastern China on Monday, killing at least 66 people and injuring hundreds as carriages derailed and toppled into a ditch, state media said.

China train crash kills 66, injures hundreds
Four hundred people were taken to hospital, with 70 in a critical condition, Xinhua news agency said, suggesting the death toll could rise further.

One train was en route from Beijing to the seaside resort of Qingdao when the accident happened in Zibo, Shandong province. The second train was from the resort of Yantai, in Shandong.

Both were likely operating at full speed at the time of the accident, the worst in China since 1997, a cargo worker said.

One passenger described escaping the wreckage with her 13-year-old daughter through a massive crack in the floor.

"We were still sleeping when the accident occurred," Xinhua quoted the woman, surnamed Yu, as saying. "I suddenly woke up when I felt the train stopped with a jolt. In a minute or two it started off again, but soon toppled."

The accident, which happened at a bend in the tracks, caused the carriages to topple into a ditch, Xinhua reported, adding that bloodstained sheets and broken thermos flasks littered the ground.

Xinhua said authorities had ruled out terrorism as the cause, which was still under investigation.

Four of the injured were French nationals, all of whom were taken to hospital with bone fractures, the report said, adding no foreigners were among the dead.

A coach of China's sailing team who was en route to Qingdao, host of the sailing events for the Beijing Olympics, was seriously hurt and facing amputation of his legs, state television reported. It did not give his name, and an official reached at the Chinese Yachting Association had no information.

Carriages overturned

Pictures posted at the news portal showed carriages overturned and rescue workers milling around passengers wrapped in blankets.

The local Qilu Evening news said the railway had begun a new timetable on Monday.

State television said the rail line was built in 1897 and was due to be retired for all but goods trains in favour of a high-speed link to be ready in time to carry passengers from Beijing to Qingdao for the Olympic sailing events.

Railway Minister Liu Zhijun had arrived at the site and President Hu Jintao had dispatched Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang to the scene, Xinhua said.

"The city government of Zibo has sent a 1,500-member strong team to help and console the victims' families," it said, adding Railways spokesman Wang Yongping had expressed "deep condolences" for the victims.

In January, a high-speed train ran through a group of maintenance workers in the dark in Shandong, killing 18.

China has invested about $100 billion in its railways in the past few years and is expanding the system to accommodate what is the world's most dense passenger and freight network.

As it stands, China's railways can barely keep pace with the country's breakneck economic growth or with the hundreds of millions of workers who are flocking from the countryside to booming cities.

Monday's accident was the worst in China since 1997, when more than 100 people were killed in a train crash in the central province of Hunan.

Last Mod: 28 Nisan 2008, 11:13
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