WENZHOU, China (Reuters) - Angry families of people killed in last weekend’s train crash in eastern China gathered to mourn on Friday, directing ire at the Railways Ministry for its botched handling of the disaster.
The Communist Party government has struggled to address public fury over the crash which killed at least 40 people on a high-speed rail network that was supposed to be one of the country’s proudest achievements.
Premier Wen Jiabao visited the crash site near the booming coastal city of Wenzhou on Thursday, and vowed a thorough and transparent investigation.
Although Wen’s visit appears to have gone some way towards salving public anger, many Wenzhou citizens are still furious that the accident happened at all, underscoring the challenge Beijing faces to win back people’s confidence.
A high-speed train rammed into a stalled train late on Saturday. Railway authorities said a signal, which should have turned red after lightning hit the train that stalled, remained green, and rail staff failed to see something was amiss, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Anguish overwhelmed family members at a Wenzhou morgue who had gathered to mark the seventh day since the death of their relatives, as Chinese tradition dictates.
A weeping Liu Canlan said her husband Chen Wei had last spoken to her on the telephone while he was on the train, promising to be home in time for dinner.
“I kept calling out to him but there was no response. He just left us, a wife and son, like this,” said Liu.
“How could this happen? How can this high-speed train be so lousy? It’s just like a tiger that eats people up,” she added, her voice chocked with emotion.
In another part of the morgue a mother who lost her teenage son fainted after cremation rites had been finished, and had to be carried out by relatives.
While many relatives said they were happy with the concern the government was giving the crash, they put the blame on local officials and the Railways Ministry for what they saw as dismal crisis management.
Zhang Meilan, who lost her niece, said they had not been told how much compensation the family would be getting but had been told to sign an agreement by the end of Friday.
“Everything that the government officials told us has been very good and of course we thank them very much. But the main thing for us is the response from the railways department and how they will help the families of the victims deal with this problem,” Zhang said.
“Today, the district office told us that if we do not sign (the compensation agreement), they are going to leave. They said if we want to wait, we can wait here but they would not care about us. What kind of rationale is this?”
Officials said compensation offered to families for relatives killed in the crash would rise to 915,000 yuan ($142,000) for each victim, almost double the 500,000 yuan initially proposed, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The Ministry of Railways is still investigating the cause of the accident, and has ordered a two-month safety review of railway operations, though a Chinese railway research institute has taken responsibility for a flaw in signalling equipment.
The admission of fault came in the face of public anger about the accident that has escalated into angry accusations that officials had covered up facts and stifled media coverage to protect an ambitious rail expansion plan and the Communist Party’s image of unruffled control.
($1 = 6.44 yuan)
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel
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