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Train derails in western Japan, killing 49
A crowded commuter train derailed and plowed into an apartment building in western Japan on Monday, turning passenger cars into twisted clumps of metal. At least 49 people were killed and some 340 injured, officials said.
The seven-car commuter train was carrying 580 passengers when it jumped the tracks, wrecking an automobile in its path before slamming into a nine-story apartment complex just yards away. Two of the four derailed cars were flattened against the wall of the building, and hundreds of rescue workers and police swarmed the wreckage and tended to the injured.
"There was a violent shaking, and the next moment I was thrown to the floor ... and I landed on top of a pile of other people," passenger Tatsuya Akashi told national broadcaster NHK. "I didn't know what happened, and there were many people bleeding."
The Hyogo state police said at least 49 people were killed, and train operator West Japan Railway Co. said at least 343 people had been taken to hospitals. It was not clear how many of the dead were passengers or if bystanders and apartment residents were among the victims.
The accident was the worst rail disaster in 14 years in Japan, which is home to one of the world's most complex and heavily traveled rail networks. An accident killed 42 people in April 1991 in Shigaraki, western Japan.
The train operator, West Japan Railway Co., apologized.
"Our most important task now is to rescue the passengers from the accident and we are doing our best," West Japan Railway Co. President Takeshi Kakiuchi told reporters.
Survivors said the force of the derailment sent passengers tumbling through the inside of the cars. Photos taken by an NHK reporter aboard the train showed passengers piled on the floor and some clawing to escape from the busted shells of the cars.
Investigators struggled to come up with reasons for the crash. Tsunemi Murakami, the railway's safety director, estimated that the train would have had to have been going 82 mph to have jumped the track purely because of excessive speed.
He said it still was not certain how fast the train was going at the time of the accident.
The driver's inexperience may also have been a factor. He only had 11 months experience and had committed a previous overrun at a station in June 2004, officials said.
Authorities mobilized for a speedy rescue. The central government in Tokyo dispatched Self-Defense Force soldiers to the disaster scene to assist.