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Rescuers have worked through the night to free trapped survivors of Japan’s worst train crash in 40 years, which killed at least 69 people and injured over 400 others.
The disaster happened when a crowded commuter train derailed and smashed into an apartment building on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city on Monday morning.
The remains of one carriage were scattered across the apartment building up to the third floor, with rescue crews working through the metal to find any survivors.
"From what rescuers have been able to see, at least four people are believed alive," a fire department spokesman told Reuters. "But the train is very badly crushed and it's hard to tell much more than that. We cannot deny that others may be in there."
Local emergency services were overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties, and relatives rushed between hospitals to look at lists for any clue as to whether their loved ones were dead or alive.
A gymnasium was turned into a makeshift morgue as families went in by twos and threes to view the bodies.
Investigators have already begun working on the cause of the accident which saw the crowded, seven-carriage commuter train jump the rails on a curve and plow into the building.
"This is a horrible and serious disaster," Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa said as he visited the scene, ordering a "thorough investigation".
Officials said they would examine a range of possible explanations for the crash, including driver error.
Initial speculation has focused on excessive speed and the 23-year-old train driver’s lack of experience.
Ryujiro Takami, who has had 11 months experience at the job, was seriously hurt in the crash.
Eye witnesses said the train, which was carrying nearly rush hour 600 passengers, appeared to be speeding as the driver was running late after he missed a station and had to back up to let off passengers.
“There was violent shakings, and the next moment I was thrown to the floor, several metres away from where I was sitting, and I landed on top of a pile of other people," a passenger told national broadcaster NHK.
"I didn't know what happened, and there were many people bleeding," he added. "Passengers, many of them high school students, were panicking."
"Passengers who were standing were thrown away and passengers who were sitting were slammed onto the floor. It was just chaos," said another.
West Japan Railway Company, which has publicly apologised for the accident, initially said the train crashed when it hit a car.
But after an initial investigation, it found the derailment happened about 100 meters before a crossing where a collision could have occurred.
The company also confirmed the train had over-shot the station at its previous stop.
Japan has one of the world's most extensive and safest train networks, transporting 60 million people daily, nearly half the nation's population.
Monday’s train accident was the worst in Japan since 1963 when about 160 people were killed in a multiple train collision at Yokohama, near Tokyo.
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