PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Federal investigators arrived Wednesday to determine why an Amtrak train jumped the tracks in a wreck that killed at least six people, injured dozens and plunged screaming passengers into darkness and chaos.
The mayor said some of the 238 passengers remained unaccounted for, raising fears the death toll could rise.
Train 188, a Northeast Regional, was en route from Washington to New York with 238 passengers and five crew members when it derailed as it was rounding a sharp curve in the city’s working-class Port Richmond section shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, authorities said.
Passengers had to scramble through the windows of toppled cars to escape. One of the seven cars was severely mangled.
The accident closed the nation’s busiest rail corridor between New York and Washington as federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived to begin examining the twisted wreckage, the tracks and the signals.
“It is an absolute disastrous mess,” Mayor Michael Nutter said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
Nutter confirmed five deaths. Temple University Hospital 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 broken bones.
Amtrak said the cause of the derailment was not known.
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 to lurch 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 under some seats that had apparently broken loose from the floor.
Jorgensen, a reporter for The New York Observer who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, said she wriggled free as fellow passengers screamed. She saw one man lying still, his face covered in blood, and a woman with a broken leg.
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, authorities on the scene seemed to be girding for a long haul. Several portable toilets were delivered for investigators and recovery workers. Heavy equipment was brought in, and Amtrak workers in hard hats walked around the wreck.
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.”
An AP 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 get out 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. 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.
“I think the fact that I walked off 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.”
Several people, including one man complaining of neck pain, were rolled away on stretchers. Others wobbled as they walked away or were put on buses. An elderly woman was given oxygen.
The Port Richmond neighborhood is a mix of warehouses, industrial buildings and homes.
The area where the wreck happened is known as Frankford Junction. It is not far from the site of one of the nation’s deadliest train accidents: the 1943 derailment of the Congressional Limited, from Washington to New York, which killed 79 people.
Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston serves 11.6 million passengers a year.
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.”