Victims' families, locals question discrepancies
Locals and relatives of victims of the Wenzhou high-speed train crash have greeted the long-awaited investigation report on the accident with scepticism and distrust.
Many dismissed the 70-page document - released on Wednesday, just over five months after the July 23 crash - as incomplete or even a whitewash, adding their voices to a wave of online criticism. Lingering suspicions about the final death toll - officially 40 - and discrepancies between the report's version of events and eyewitness accounts are making it difficult for many connected to the disaster to accept the findings.
'We stood on our balcony and watched the whole rescue,' said one shopkeeper, who declined to give her name. 'I was convinced then that several hundred people must have died, and I still believe that. There is no way people could have survived when the carriages flew right off the bridge the way they did.'
Locals also voiced suspicions the report had altered details about the night's events and the government's response in an attempt to paint the authorities in a more positive light.
Huang Danwu, a sewing machine operator in a workshop next to the crash site, said he had been among the dozens of locals who rushed across a rain-soaked, boggy field to help moments after the crash.
He disputed the report's claim that the first emergency services arrived on the scene at 8.42pm, just 12 minutes after the crash. 'There was nobody to help us for a long time,' he said. 'No police or firefighters showed up for well over 30 or 40 minutes, and even then it was only a very small number. It took about an hour before there were enough officers to co-ordinate a proper rescue team. By that time, we villagers had already pulled a large number of dead and wounded from the wreckage.'
The report also denied media reports that rescue efforts were abandoned less than eight hours after the crash, which occurred at 8.30pm. It said this only applied to efforts in the debris below the bridge and not the carriages still on the track above.
But witnesses at the scene - including a South China Morning Post reporter who arrived just before 5am the next day - have repeatedly said no further efforts were made to search for survivors until late the following afternoon, when two-year-old Xiang Weiyi was found alive in the wreckage 21 hours after the impact.
Victims' families say they want more details. 'We may not understand all the technical details ... but that information needs to be made public,' said Jin Xianren, whose brother and nine-year-old nephew died in the crash.