An overturned train is seen in Yilan county, Taiwan, on Sunday in the picture grab obtained from social media video.
Authorities have now launched an investigation into what caused the incident.
Taiwan Rail Administration set up a level 1 disaster response command center at around 5:00pm, and the Ministry of Defense has mobilized troops, equipment, and ambulances to the site of the disaster.
Most of the victims died on the train while others succumbed to their injuries in hospital, he said. More than 20 soldiers had joined firefighters in their rescue work as of 8 p.m. Five of the cars were on their sides.
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When he arrived at the scene he saw local residents helping train passengers to escape.
At the scene, searchers walked through an upright vehicle with flashlights.
"The underlying cause should be investigated to the maximum extent to avoid anything like this happening in the future", Lai said.
Ensuring that rail traffic goes back to normal is also a priority, he said.
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Following the accident authorities rushed police and disaster management teams to the spot to carry out rescue work. The Amritsar Police on Friday said they had given permission for the Dussehra celebration at the Dhobi Ghat ground.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the American woman is hospitalized in Saint Mary's Hospital Luodong in the county.
The Puyuma was launched in 2013 to handle the very hard topography of Taiwan's east coast and is distinct from the high-speed rail that runs on the west coast.
"As of 6.30pm there are 17 dead on site and 126 people injured", the Taiwan Railways Administration said in a statement, adding that the train had been moving between two stations in Yilan County before the derailment occurred.
Sunday's derailment is the country's deadliest since a 1981 collision that killed 30, but the third deadly accident since 2003. Five people were killed and 16 others hurt.
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A total of 366 people were onboard the high-speed train when all eight of its carriages derailed. Investigators blamed brake failure.