Taiwan mourns after deadliest train disaster in decades

a man sitting on a rock: The train was packed with hundreds of people when it crashed © Sam Yeh The train was packed with hundreds of people when it crashed

Salvage teams began removing mangled train carriages on Saturday after Taiwan's worst rail disaster in decades killed at least 50 people, as flags flew half-mast across an island plunged into mourning.

a train traveling down train tracks near a forest: At least 50 people were killed in Taiwan's worst rail disaster in decades © Sam Yeh At least 50 people were killed in Taiwan's worst rail disaster in decades

Officials said Friday's devastating collision was caused when a parked railway maintenance vehicle slipped down an embankment and onto the tracks.

Specialist teams spent hours extracting bodies and survivors from the crashed train © Sam Yeh Specialist teams spent hours extracting bodies and survivors from the crashed train

A train packed with as many as 500 people at the start of a long holiday weekend then hit the truck just as it entered a narrow tunnel near the eastern coastal city of Hualien.

Prosecutors said they are seeking an arrest warrant for the truck driver.

Pictures released by rescuers showed the front of the train had been pulverised into a twisted mesh of metal inside the tunnel.

Specialist teams spent hours extracting bodies and survivors, pulling them along the roof of the stricken train to get them into the open.

On Saturday, the rescue operation began removing carriages now blocking one half of the sole train line down Taiwan's remote and mountainous eastern coastline.

An AFP reporter at the scene said the most heavily damaged carriages inside the tunnel had yet to be extracted.

The Interior Ministry ordered all flags to be lowered to half-mast for three days while President Tsai Ing-wen was expected to visit the wounded in Hualien's hospitals later in the day.

Map locating deadly train derailment in Taiwan on Friday. © AFP Map locating deadly train derailment in Taiwan on Friday.

- 'Really devastating' -

Friday morning's crash took place at the start of the Tomb Sweeping Festival, a four-day public holiday when many Taiwanese return to villages to tidy the graves of their ancestors.

Emergency workers are seen working to try and free people trapped in the carriages of a train that crashed in eastern Taiwan. Dozens of people were killed in the incident when the packed train derailed. It's one of the island's worst railway accidents in decades. © Provided by AFP Emergency workers are seen working to try and free people trapped in the carriages of a train that crashed in eastern Taiwan. Dozens of people were killed in the incident when the packed train derailed. It's one of the island's worst railway accidents in decades.

More than 140 people were rushed to hospital. A French national was among the dead.

Taiwan mourns after deadliest train disaster in decades