Sleepy town becomes a scene of horror

The blue-striped carriage lay wrapped around the edge of a nine-floor apartment building like a discarded sheet of plastic.

Two other railway carriages were lodged underneath and against it as rescuers scurried around trying frantically to respond to cries for help.

Dozens of workers brought out ladders to climb on top of the debris and sift through the metal and glass in a race against time to find people still alive.

Survivors, ranging from businesspeople with bloodied white shirts to school students with broken limbs, waited patiently on a blue sheet spread on the ground before they were taken on stretchers to hospital.

Amagasaki, a town of factory chimneys and commuter homes, on Monday became a scene of horror.

At least 53 people were killed and more than 400 injured in one of the worst train crashes to date in Japan, which has enjoyed a high reputation for safety of the rail network, which is a daily lifeline for nearly half the population.

”I was just scared and could not move,” said Etsuko Murakami, a 64-year-old housewife, who was in the second carriage and broke her left leg.

”I thought I was going to die,” a trembling Murakami said in a wheelchair at the hospital, wearing a brown sweater stained with blood. ”That was the most fearful moment in my life.”

Some of the survivors were still unconscious as they were taken away by rescue teams.

”Passengers standing there were thrown away and passengers sitting on the seats were slammed onto the floor,” said Tsuneo Hara, who injured his right leg after he experienced the crash in the third carriage.

”It was just a chaos. Some 10 people could not stand up and [were] lying on the floor without moving. Female passengers were just screaming and crying,” said Hara, an advertising company worker in his 50s.

Amagasaki, about 400km west of Tokyo, used to be known for its heavy industry with gray smoke pumping out of the chemical plants and machinery factories. But the town has become increasingly gentrified and serves as a popular bedroom community for the cosmopolitan cities of Osaka and Kobe.

It is unlikely residents will ever look at the commuter tracks in the same way again.

”I was stunned when I heard the huge noise,” said Chikara Yamada, a 30-year-old auto repairman. ”I rushed to the scene carrying some blankets for the victims, but some bodies were already laid on the ground. I never dreamed something like this would happen in my neighbourhood.”

For many residents in Amagasaki, the accident was the most horrifying experience since January 1995, when a giant earthquake rocked the region, killing more than 6 000, mostly in Kobe.

”First I thought it was an earthquake,” said Naomi Taniguchi, a 38-year-old businesswoman, who broke her left arm in the second train.

”After the accident, I blanked all of a sudden. I was using the same train every day, but I felt it was quite faster than usual. The windows were shattered, the floor was bent in half. People were trembling for fear.”

The cause of the accident is still under investigation but authorities said the train’s 23-year-old driver may have been speeding or failed to negotiate a curb. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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Shingo Ito
Shingo Ito
Dr. Shingo Ito is Assistant Professor in Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry (CBC), School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS) since April 2018. He received his B.Sc. (2003), M.Sc. (2005), and Ph.D. (2008) degrees from Department of Chemistry, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo, Japan. He was appointed to Assistant Professor (2008-2017) and Lecturer (2017-2018) at Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology, Graduate School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo, Japan. Representative awards he received include Mitsui Chemicals Catalysis Science Award of Encouragement (2016), The Chemical Society of Japan Award for Young Chemists (2017), and The Young Scientists’ Prize, The Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (2018).

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