Amtrak train derails killing 6 people; investigation begins
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Daylight on Wednesday revealed the destruction and devastation caused by an Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia that left at least six people dead and injured dozens more, several critically, as survivors recalled a terrifying wreck that plunged them into darkness and chaos.
Some passengers had to scramble through the windows of toppled cars to escape. One of the seven cars was completely mangled.
The accident closed the nation’s busiest rail corridor between New York and Washington as federal investigators begin sifting through the twisted remains to determine what went wrong.
Train 188, a Northeast Regional, left Washington, D.C. and was headed to New York when it derailed shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. Amtrak said the train was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members.
“It is an absolute disastrous mess,” Mayor Michael Nutter said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
Nutter confirmed five deaths and said not all the people on the train had been accounted for. Temple University Hospital’s Dr. Herbert Cushing said Wednesday a person died there overnight from a chest injury.
More than 140 people went to hospitals to be evaluated or treated for injuries that included burns and fractures.
Amtrak said the cause of the derailment was not known and that it was investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration were also dispatching investigators to the site.
Passenger Jillian Jorgensen, 27, was seated in the quiet car – the second passenger car – and said the train was going “fast enough for me to be worried” when it began a hard bank to the right. The train derailed, the lights went out and Jorgensen was thrown from her seat. She said she “flew across the train” and landed underneath some seats that she assumed had come loose from the floor.
Jorgensen, a reporter for The New York Observer who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, said she managed to wriggle free as fellow passengers screamed. She saw one man lying still, his face covered in blood, and a woman with a broken leg. Eventually, she climbed out an emergency exit window and a firefighter helped her down a ladder to safety.
“It was terrifying and awful, and as it was happening it just did not feel like the kind of thing you could walk away from, so I feel very lucky,” Jorgensen said in an email to The Associated Press. “The scene in the car I was in was total disarray and people were clearly in a great deal of pain.”
Early Wednesday morning, authorities on the scene seemed to be girding for a long haul. One sign: several portable toilets were delivered for investigators and recovery workers. Utility poles near the wreck could be seen leaning into the tracks.
All seven train cars, including the engine, were in “various stages of disarray,” Nutter said. He said there were cars that were “completely overturned, on their side, ripped apart.”
The front of the train was going into a turn when it started to shake before coming to a sudden stop.
An Associated Press manager, Paul Cheung, was on the train and said he was watching a video on his laptop when “the train started to decelerate, like someone had slammed the brake.”
“Then suddenly you could see everything starting to shake,” he said. “You could see people’s stuff flying over me.”
Cheung said another passenger urged him to escape from the back of his car, which he did. He said he saw passengers trying to escape through the windows of cars tipped on their sides.
“The front of the train is really mangled,” he said. “It’s a complete wreck. The whole thing is like a pile of metal.”
Gaby Rudy, an 18-year-old from Livingston, New Jersey, was headed home from George Washington University when the derailment occurred. She said she was nearly asleep when she suddenly felt the train “fall off the track.”
The next few minutes were filled with broken glass and smoke, said Rudy, who suffered minor injuries. “They told us we had to run away from the train in case another train came,” she said.
Another passenger, Daniel Wetrin, was among more than a dozen people taken to a nearby elementary school afterward.
“I think the fact that I walked off (the train) kind of made it even more surreal because a lot of people didn’t walk off,” he said. “I walked off as if, like, I was in a movie. There were people standing around, people with bloody faces. There were people, chairs, tables mangled about in the compartment … power cables all buckled down as you stepped off the train.”
Police swarming around Tuesday’s derailment site, in Port Richmond, a working-class area with a mix of warehouses, industrial buildings and homes, told people to get back, away from the train. They pleaded with curious onlookers: “Do NOT go to scene of derailment. Please allow first responders room to work.”
Roads all around the crash site were blocked off. Hundreds of firefighters surrounded the train cars, taking people out.
Several injured people, including one man complaining of neck pain, were rolled away on stretchers. Others wobbled while walking away or were put on city buses. An elderly woman was given oxygen.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was on the train and said he helped people. He tweeted photos of firefighters helping other people in the wreckage.
“Pray for those injured,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware also was on the Amtrak train but got off in Wilmington, shortly before the derailment. He later tweeted that he was “grateful to be home safe and sound.”
The area where the derailment occurred is known as Frankford Junction and has a big curve. It’s not far from where one of the nation’s deadliest train accidents occurred: the 1943 derailment of The Congressional Limited, from Washington to New York, which killed 79 people.
Amtrak said rail service on the busy Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia had been stopped. The mayor, citing the mangled train tracks and downed wires, said, “There’s no circumstance under which there would be any Amtrak service this week through Philadelphia.”