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Emergency workers are battling to rescue survivors from the mangled wreckage of two Chinese bullet trains involved in a high-speed collision which left 33 dead and nearly 200 injured, reports say.
The first train had been halted by a lightning strike and was rear-ended by the second, state media said, causing two carriages to fall off a viaduct in a disaster likely to raise fresh questions over the safety of China's rapid rail expansion.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao called for "all-out efforts" to rescue injured passengers, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Railways Minister Sheng Guangzu, who was heading to the scene from Beijing, ordered an "in-depth investigation" into Saturday's accident, the agency reported.
The high-speed service from Hangzhou to Wenzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang province, was rammed from behind in Wenzhou's Shuangyu town, China National Radio said.
It derailed and two of its carriages fell from an elevated section of track at around 8.27pm local time, Xinhua reported, citing the provincial government. Some 190 people were injured, it said.
Pictures posted on Chinese websites and microblogs showed a long rail carriage standing vertically, with one end leaning on the viaduct and the other resting on the ground about 20 metres below.
A second carriage was lying fully on the ground below the track, having apparently fallen completely off, with rescue personnel swarming over it.
The photos also showed mangled metal sections of one carriage and people being carried away from the scene, although it was not clear whether those victims were injured or dead.
"We heard a 'bang' and it felt like an earthquake," Xinhua quoted one survivor, a woman surnamed Zhou, as saying.
"I immediately held my five-year-old kid to my arms," she said. She and the child were injured but survived, Xinhua said.
Another, unnamed survivor, aged 40, told the news agency he had been trapped in a carriage with more than 60 other passengers after the crash.
"We were trapped in the coach for more than one hour before five of us broke the window and crawled out," he said. The five rescued another two passengers but one died shortly afterwards, the man said.
Xinhua said the capacity of each train car was about 100 passengers.
China National Radio quoted an unnamed Shanghai Railway Bureau official at the scene as saying the first train was halted by a lightning strike.
Xinhua said the train itself had been struck by lightning but other reports suggested it may not have been a direct hit.
The first four coaches of the second train had also been knocked off the track by the force of the collision, Xinhua said.
The accident occurred less than a month after China inaugurated with great fanfare a new flagship $US33 billion line from Beijing to Shanghai that halves the rail journey time between China's two most important cities to five hours.
The line has suffered delays caused by power outages, sparking a slew of criticism online and in Chinese media.
China has recently poured money into a further expansion of the network but the huge investments have spurred allegations of corruption and raised concerns over costs and whether corners were being cut on rail safety.
In April 2008, 72 people were killed and more than 400 injured when one train derailed and another collided with it in the eastern province of Shandong.
© 2011 AFP
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