BEIJING, April 28 – Sixty-six people were killed and nearly 250 injured early Monday when a passenger train from Beijing careered off the rails and slammed into another train in eastern China, state media reported.,
The train was travelling to Qingdao — the coastal city that will host the Olympic sailing competition in August — when it derailed, causing the other train to leave the tracks too.
The accident, the worst in China in more than a decade, happened in the city of Zibo in Shandong province, state-run Xinhua news agency said.
State-run TV reported 66 killed in the accident. Xinhua said 57 had died immediately in the pre-dawn accident, while three others died in hospitals later.
Out of 247 injured, four were French nationals, Xinhua said, without identifying the four.
Witnesses said many passengers were able to climb out of the wrecked train carriages shortly afterwards, some wrapped up in bed sheets from the sleeper cars to guard against the early morning chill.
"I think dozens were injured or killed," a doctor told Xinhua earlier.
"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, some slightly injured. Their injuries are external."
Nurses at the accident and emergency departments of two other hospitals in the area said they were also counting the injured but that no one had died, and there were no critical injuries.
The accident happened at 4:43 am (2043 GMT Sunday), Xinhua said, quoting a spokesman from the Shandong provincial government.
The other train was on its way to Xuzhou in the eastern Jiangsu province, from Shandong’s Yantai.
About 10 carriages crashed into a ditch after the train derailed, a witness told Xinhua.
A photo of the crash, posted on a popular Internet news web portal, showed people wrapped in white blankets sitting by the train wreckage.
Railway Minister Liu Zhijun has arrived at the scene of to oversee rescue efforts, Xinhua said, where he demanded an investigation to prevent this type of incident happening again.
The accident has disrupted traffic on a major rail route linking Jinan, the capital of Shandong, to Qingdao.
In January, a high-speed train ploughed into a group of railway workers in Shandong province, killing 18 people.
The Chinese government said earlier this year that 101,480 people died in 2007 in more than 500,000 transport, industrial and other accidents.
It said the number of rail accident deaths fell 45 percent, or 2,595, but did not provide an absolute figure. However, data suggest the number of train deaths last year was about 3,170.
In one of the worst rail accidents in recent times, 126 people were killed and more than 200 injured when two trains collided in central China’s Hunan province in 1997.