BEIJING - A high-speed passenger train jumped the tracks and slammed into another train in eastern China on Monday, killing at least 66 people and injuring more than 400, a state news agency reported.
Seventy people were in critical condition after the pre-dawn crash in a rural area in Shandong province, Xinhua News Agency said on its website. The injured included four French nationals who were hospitalized with bone fractures, it said.
The accident just before the May Day long weekend holiday happened when a train travelling from Beijing to the coastal city of Qingdao derailed and hit a second passenger train at about 4:40 a.m., Xinhua reported. About 10 of the first train's carriages toppled into a dirt ditch.
The second train, travelling from Yantai to Xuzhou, also derailed, although it did not fall into the ditch. A news photo showed one of its carriages resting perpendicular to the track.
It was not clear what caused the first train to derail outside the city of Zibo.
News photos showed rescuers pulling passengers from a carriage that had fallen onto its side. Survivors bundled in white bed sheets from the sleeper cars stood or sat near the wreckage.
Xinhua said bloodstained sheets and broken thermos flasks could be seen on the ground beside the twisted train cars.
It did not say how many people were on both trains. Most of the passengers would have been asleep at the time of the crash.
"We were still sleeping when the accident occurred," one woman told Xinhua. The woman, 38, was travelling with her 13-year-old daughter. Both were not hurt and escaped from the train through a huge crack in the floor of their carriage.
Dozens of victims were being treated at the Zou village People's Hospital, though most were not serious cases, Xinhua reported, citing an unnamed hospital worker.
A doctor at the emergency clinic of the Zibo Center Hospital said all the major hospitals in the Zibo area were treating the injured. She gave no figures and would not give her name.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were monitoring the situation, China Central Television reported. Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang and Railways Minister Liu Zhijun were headed to the site to oversee rescue efforts.
Nine hotels and 34 rescue centres were set up for the families of the victims, Xinhua said.
Xinhua said the accident had cut traffic on the Jinan-Qingdao railway, which links the provincial capital of Jinan with Qingdao, the site of the sailing competition for the Olympic Games in August.
It was the second major railway accident in Shandong this year. In January, 18 people died when a train hurtling through the night at more than 120 kilometres per hour slammed into a group of about 100 workers carrying out track maintenance near the city of Anqiu.
Trains are the most popular way to travel in China, and the country's extensive rail network carried 1.36 billion passengers last year, Xinhua said. That is slightly behind India, which had 1.4 billion passengers last year, according to the Indian National Railways website.