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70 dead in China train crash: state media

by Staff Writers
Zibo, China (AFP) April 28, 2008
Seventy people were killed and 420 injured early Monday when a passenger train from Beijing careered off the rails and slammed into another train in eastern China, state media reported.

Ruling out terrorism, the official Xinhua news agency said preliminary investigations found human error was to blame, without elaborating.

The first train was travelling to Qingdao -- the coastal city that will host the Olympic sailing competition in August -- when it derailed, causing a train coming in the opposite direction to leave the tracks.

Nine carriages derailed, China news service said, and the second train crashed into those still on the track.

The rail accident, the worst in China in more than a decade, happened near the city of Zibo in Shandong province, the news service said.

Xinhua reported 70 people killed in the accident, quoting officials at the rescue headquarters. It said there were no foreigners among the dead.

The news agency said four French nationals were among those injured. They included three family members and a friend.

Pascal Boisson, 54, suffered multiple fractures to his ribs and may have another fracture in the chest, Xinhua reported, quoting Zhang Jun, head of the orthopedics department at one of Zibo's hospitals.

Other survivors recounted their experiences.

"We were still sleeping," a 38-year-old woman who escaped from the wreckage told Xinhua.

"I suddenly woke up when I felt the train stopped with a jolt. After a minute or two it started off again, but soon toppled."

The woman, who only gave her family name as Yu, managed to escape from the wreck with her 13-year-old daughter through a huge crack in the floor.

"I suddenly felt the train, like a roller coaster, topple 90 degrees to one side and all the way to the other side," a passenger surnamed Zhang, on the train from Beijing, told Xinhua.

"When it finally went off the tracks, many people fell on me and hot water poured out of the thermos flasks."

The news agency described chaotic scenes in the minutes after the disaster, the ground littered with blood-soaked sheets and shattered thermos flasks, as passengers sought survival.

"I saw a girl who was trying to help her boyfriend out of the train, but he was dead," Zhang said.

At one point so many survivors tried to make phone calls that the mobile communications network was congested and no one could get through, Xinhua said.

Hu Weidong, a coach of China's national sailing team, was also among the injured, and was transferred to a hospital in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province.

"He didn't lose consciousness, but there were grave injuries to his neck and spine, which we fear could cause paralysis," Zhang told Xinhua.

Witnesses said many passengers were able to climb out of the wrecked train carriages shortly after the crash, some wrapped in bed sheets from the sleeper cars to guard against the early morning chill.

More than 700 medical staff and 130 ambulances were involved in rescue efforts, Xinhua said.

A total of 19 hospitals were treating those hurt in the accident, Xinhua reported, while hotels prepared to accommodate the victims' families.

"We have received around 40 injured passengers but nobody died," a nurse at one of Zibo's hospitals told AFP.

"Some of them are seriously injured."

The accident happened at 4:41 am (2041 GMT Sunday), Xinhua said, quoting a spokesman from the Shandong provincial government.

Railway Minister Liu Zhijun and Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang have arrived at the scene to oversee rescue efforts, according to the news agency, with Liu has demanding an investigation.

The accident has disrupted trains on a major rail route linking Jinan, the capital of Shandong, to Qingdao, although the Ministry of Railways said late Monday the line had been repaired. Services will be restored by about 8 a.m on Tuesday, Xinhua said.

This is the second serious train accident in Shandong province.

In January, a high-speed train ploughed into a group of railway workers in the province, killing 18 people.

In one of the worst rail accidents in recent times in China, 126 people were killed and more than 200 injured when two trains collided in central Hunan province in 1997.

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