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Amtrak Train Derails Near Washington, D.C.

Aired July 29, 2002 - 14:36   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now another story that's happening this moment that we continue to follow is the Amtrak train that was traveling from Chicago to Washington, D.C. It derailed in Montgomery Country, Maryland, on its way to D.C.
A lot of injuries, we are told from a freelance photographer that we have been speaking with. He is on the scene. We are going to bring him with us in just a moment.

Firefighters are now helping people escape via the windows from four of the cars that had been turned over. Montgomery Country Police said that they are getting reports at least six of the cars have derailed in this residential area. It's about ten miles outside of Washington, D.C.

An Amtrak spokesperson also has said that the train derailed about 1:10 p.m. That wasn't long before it was supposed to arrive D.C.; it was supposed to arrive about 1:45 in the afternoon.

Here's a map to show you the route exactly from -- actually, do we know what color is the exact route, Paul? Red or the orange?

OK, we're not quite sure. But there's a shot of the map from Chicago to D.C. You can actually see where Montgomery County, Maryland, is there, sort of in up-center there of that map.

Steve Eisen, the freelance photographer that we have been talking to is back with us on the phone.

Steve, I don't know if could you hear what I was just saying, but do you have an update for us with regard to possible fatalities and survivors?

STEVE EISEN, FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER: OK, as far as can I tell at this point, we have got six critically injured on the scene that I know of. Three of them are being classified as priority one trauma victims. There is one Amtrak train car -- I just saw the fire department and police label it number, put a number on it: number five. So that, I assume, means that there is at least five cars overturned.

I think to the right of me there is another car overturned, which would make six. As I earlier reported, and I believe from eyewitnesses that have I have spoken to -- I personally have not seen it myself -- but there is car overturned down an embankment about a 45 agree angle up in the air. There are people walking away from the scene being helped by EMS. A lot of these people -- so far, I have seen I would say about 75 people. A lot of these people are young people, and they are walking wounded.

There are some people still in the overturned Amtrak train cars. Fire department personnel have ladders up against the cars and trying to pull them out.

PHILLIPS: So right now are there-- what type of -- is it firefighters? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Have they set up a triage? Are they treating people right now on the scene?

EISEN: They are treating people on the scene. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PHILLIPS: That's OK. Can you hear me all right, Steve?

EISEN: OK. There are some people walking towards me that have blood on them. I am busy taking pictures as I am talking to you also.

PHILLIPS: That's OK. Are you able to talk -- can you talk to some of those survivors, Steve. Are you able to talk to some of those survivors (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

EISEN: Yes. Hold on a second. Hold on a second.

PHILLIPS: All right.

EISEN: We'll get to one of these people on the phone.

PHILLIPS: All right.

EISEN: Hold on a second.

PHILLIPS: You got it. Steve Eisen's trying to get to one of those survivors of a train derailment there in Montgomery County, Maryland.

If you are just tuning in, we are told so far five of those passenger cars have overturned.

Can you hear me all right, Steve? All...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Suddenly the train.

EISEN: OK, there's another. She's got to go. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are asking me not to interfere with the patients, so...


PHILLIPS: Not a problem.

EISEN: I am still busy taking some pictures. I am trying to stay out of the way as much as I can.

PHILLIPS: No problem, Steve. We appreciate you trying. But indeed, you are able to see and talk to some survivors there that have climbed out of those passenger trains?

EISEN: Yes. Yes, I have.

PHILLIPS: Steve I know you have got...

EISEN: And there's some helicopters hovering overhead. I know some medevacs have been called to the scene, I believe three of them. I don't know where their landing site's going to be. Again, I report that there are three priority one trauma victims that I know of.

PHILLIPS: All right, when you say priority one trauma, talk to me nontechnical there what exactly does that mean.

EISEN: A priority one trauma is about as severe an injury as one can possibly get. There is priority two trauma which is less severe. And priority three people are what I see mostly, which are walking wounded. Again, I know that there are some severely traumatic injured people here on the scene that are still trapped in this wreckage.

PHILLIPS: How many people fit into each passenger car. How many people do you think we are talking about here, Steve?

EISEN: From what I remember when I was riding as a railroad buff, I would say, depending upon how many they fit in a seat, each train car can hold as many as 50 people.

PHILLIPS: Wow! OK. Are any of the survivors being air lifted out of there?

EISEN: I believe they will be. Again, I don't know where the landing zones are for theses medevacs. I am too close to the scene. They have been called to the scene. And I don't know where their landing zone is at the moment when they extirpate these people out of the wreckage.

PHILLIPS: So you are saying five cars you can count. Five cars have overturned. Are you confirming that number there? You can see five?

EISEN: I can confirm five. Many passengers have told me another car to right of me, which would make six. But I personally cannot see that car myself. There are some trees in the way.

PHILLIPS: Is it possible -- you said it's possible that one car might have rolled down an embankment?

EISEN: That is correct. One of them has rolled down an embankment and sitting up in the air at approximately a 45 degree angle.

PHILLIPS: Once again, if you are just tuning in, an Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Washington, D.C., has derailed in Montgomery Country, Maryland. Right now we have a Steve Eisen, a freelance photographer on the phone. He is sort of talking to us, taking pictures, and actually talking to survivors there on the scene.

Steve, are there any survivors close to you right now at the moment?

EISEN: Hold on one second. There are. Hold on one second.

PHILLIPS: You got it.

EISEN: Ma'am, you were on the train, were you not? This is CNN News. They want to know what you can tell them. You can give them your name if you want to; you don't have to. You are on the air. They want to know what you saw and what you heard, anything that can help them out in their news report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Paula (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Chicago, Illinois, bound for Union Station in Washington, D.C. We were in the second car behind -- or third car behind the engine. We were in the upper deck, in a sleeping car. Suddenly, the train started to lurch and started to fall off the tracks. We landed on our side. We had a little bit of trouble heading out of our sleeping berth car because it was on the ground -- and then climbing to the upper part of the train and then climbing down.

The last cars in the train are the coach cars, and they are having a little more difficult of a time because they are in a very wooded area, this sections of the residential area.

PHILLIPS: Paula, can you hear me OK?


PHILLIPS: This is Kyra Phillips. You're live on CNN right now. We are following this breaking news story. Just to let our viewers know, you were on this train. How did you get out of there, Paula?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The way our car fell we are on the bottom, so we were actually hitting the ground. So we had to climb out of our berth, out of the next berth, and then through that window, through that emergency window, onto the top, which was the side of the train, and then down a ladder.

PHILLIPS: Who knocked out the emergency window? Was that you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, the gal whose was in that sleeping berth, she pushed that out. And then we all climbed out of the ladder.

PHILLIPS: Were you traveling by yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was travelling with my 13-year-old daughter.

PHILLIPS: How's your 13-year-old daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Both of us are shaken up, but we're doing well.

PHILLIPS: Well, that's understandable. You sound -- I tell you what, I can hear the strength in your voice right now. Did you have any warning at all, Paula, or did you just hear a thump? I mean, kind of give us a play-by-play. You were heading from Chicago. Tell me what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we were very happy because there was only 15 minutes before we got to our destination. And it seemed like the train just lost control. Upon talking to some of the people who work for the train, I said did we hit something, and they seemed to think that the lines themselves, because of the intense heat out here today -- it's 97 -- the lines buckled.

PHILLIPS: Did you have you any warning at all or did it boom, just happen?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it just happened.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just started to swerve off the tracks, and we started to fall. It was very frightening.

PHILLIPS: What did you do? Did you hold on to your seat? Were you strapped in? Did you have a seat belt of some sort?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We did not have seat belts on. We just kind of braced ourselves as we fell.

PHILLIPS: Were you holding your daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was in that seat across from me. I was reaching for her when we were finally coming to halt.

PHILLIPS: Unbelievable.

Are you are seeing a lot of people getting out of there, Paula?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am seeing a lot of people right now. And the fire workers and ambulance people are bringing people out on stretchers, because, like I said, the people in coach, I think, had a real hard time of it.

PHILLIPS: Do you know how many passenger cars were on this train? Or how many passengers connected this train? I'm sorry, how many were all together?

JOYCE SUTTER, MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE: I don't have the exact number as to how many cars were on this train.

PHILLIPS: OK, who am I talking to right now?

SUTTER: Office Joyce Sutter with Montgomery County Police.

PHILLIPS: We now have -- all right, we lost Paula, and actually a survivor of the train derailment there. OK, and I just heard a hang-up. Did we lose you? Do I still have someone on the phone?

OK. We have lost both of our phone connections. We had an incredible interview there with a woman, an actual survivor from this derailment. You are watching -- these are first pictures actually that we got in from CNN affiliate WUSA. These are live pictures you are watching of a train derailment in Montgomery Country, Maryland.

Just moments ago, we were talking to a survivor that actually, Paula and her 13-year-old daughter coming from Chicago, Illinois, on this train to Washington, D.C. - said they were having a great time, talking about what a great day it was. The next thing you knew -- they knew their passenger car, they felt a thud, a bump, their passenger car turned over. They were on their side, bracing themselves. Someone was in their car, knocked out the emergency window, and they escaped. We were really lucky.

We were talking to a freelance photographer, Steve Eisen. He was on the scene and just walked up to some of the survivors as they were coming out and got Paula on the phone.

So very encouraging to hear that there are a number of survivors as this train derailment took place not long ago there in Montgomery Country, Maryland, where it derailed, leaving Chicago on its way to Washington, D.C.

This is what we know so far, according to the freelance photographer Steve Eisen: that five passenger cars rather attached to this train here overturned, one possibly down an embankment, each passenger car possibly holding up to 50 passengers.

I'm told we have someone else on phone right now.

Who do we have?

SUTTER: Officer Joyce Sutter.

PHILLIPS: We have Joyce Sutter. Hi, Joyce.

And you are the public information officer for Montgomery County Police?

SUTTER: Correct.

PHILLIPS: OK. Sorry about the problem there with our phone hook-up. We were actually talking to one of the survivors, Joyce. I guess that's a tremendous amount of good news for you, the number of survivors at this derailment.

SUTTER: Exactly. We don't have injuries on the train itself, but we have no reports of any fatalities, which is definitely, you know, a godsend in that respect.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. No fatalities at this point. So tell me what kinds of efforts are going on right now on behalf of Montgomery Country Police. Tell me the other type of rescue crews that are out there and what you are doing right now to try to get these people out of the turned-over passenger cars.

SUTTER: We are working with Montgomery County fire and rescue to actually determine how to get in the cars themselves. And we also had a problem with power lines that were down on the each car. So we were looking, you know, to turn that power off. So we have gotten that hurdle taken care of, but now we are going into each car to determine exaclty how many people were in those cars and what their injuries are.

PHILLIPS: And how exactly -- are you treating them -- if the injuries are too bad to move them, are you treating them inside the passenger cars, or are you trying to get everybody out at this moment?

SUTTER: Honestly, I cannot -- because we don't have handle the rescue part. But probably, the protocol for Montgomery County fire and rescue is if the injury is too severe for them to be moved at that time, they will treat them in the car and try and get them extricated to a local trauma center.

PHILLIPS: And how -- tell me process as the police arrive there on the scene -- and like you said. they are working with the fire and rescue teams also -- how do they start to take the passengers out? Are they going through the emergency windows? Are they going through the side doors?

SUTTER: Unfortunately, I don't have that information. I can -- we do have the director from our public information office on his way down there. So he can provide us more up-to-date information. So as soon as he is able to give us a call back with an update, you are more than welcome to give us call back and you can figure out what's going on.

PHILLIPS: No problem. Joyce, what don't you tell me what you do know at this time. No fatalities so far -- that's the great news. Go ahead and tell me what you have been briefed on and what you can tell me.

SUTTER: No fatalities. We do have injuries, but unfortunately, we don't have exact numbers. We did receive a phone call from numerous people around 2:00 this afternoon. It's in a residential area, the Kensington area. And basically, people heard the sound of a train coming through; they looked out and saw at least six cars that had been derailed.

PHILLIPS: Did of any those residents come from their homes and try to help rescue some of these passengers?

SUTTER: From the information I have heard so far, that is correct. They responded, and as soon as Montgomery County officers got on the scene, they also went to assist the passengers.

PHILLIPS: How far is Kensington from Washington, D.C.?

SUTTER: Approximately about -- I would say not more than 10 minutes.

PHILLIPS: OK, about ten minutes away. Almost there. Have you dealt with this before? Obviously, you are in a county that trains come through there quite a bit. Has this happened before in your area?

SUTTER: Unfortunately, it has. Back in February of 1996, we had a CSX and an Amtrak train hit. And unfortunately, we did have fatalities during that period of time. But right now, we don't like we do have that.

PHILLIPS: What usually causes something like this, Joyce? Is it a communication situation? Is there some sort of connection or maybe a wide turn where the train had to get onto a different track there in Montgomery County?

SUTTER: To be honest with you, I wouldn't be able to address this. I mean, those are always possibilities. It could be a signal problem. It could have been something on the tracks itself that would cause the cars to derail. The investigation is just beginning, so it wouldn't be fair to speculate what could be the problem. It could be mechanical or it could be something totally, you know -- right now they do not know what it is.

PHILLIPS: Do you know how many passengers were on board this train?

SUTTER: No, unfortunately, we don't have exact numbers yet.

PHILLIPS: All right, Joyce Sutter, PIO of the Montgomery County Police. Joyce, thank you so much for bringing as much information as you can.

If you are just tuning in, these are live pictures from Kensington, Maryland. That's about 10 minutes from Washington, D.C. This Amtrak train was leaving Chicago heading toward Washington, D.C. There you go, you can see the route right there. Rocky (ph), thank you so much. He is tracking it for us on the map. This is as it was heading from Chicago taking this route on its way to Washington, D.C. And as you can see there, the middle of the route, about 10 minutes from Washington, D.C., this train derailed in Montgomery Country, Maryland.

Live pictures now from WUSA, our CNN affiliate there in the area.

This is what we know so far. The good news is so far no fatalities. Joyce Sutter, the PIO -- public information officer -- from Montgomery Country Police said there are no fatalities.

Go ahead -- someone's talking to me. Go ahead, Paul.

OK, I thought I was getting some more information. Let me know if you do have new information.

I am going to keep you briefing on what we know so far. No fatalities at this point. You have got Montgomery County Police and fire and rescue crews here on the scene, desperately trying to get the survivors, the remaining survivors out of these passenger cars. So far, we know that five passenger cars have turned over.

Those were pictures from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We are getting a bit of a fuzzy -- we will go back to our other live pictures, from WUSA. We will try to bring you as many shots as we can. We have got a number of different cameras up, live cameras, to bring you a different perspective.

The shot that you were just looking at prior to these live pictures was a possible passenger car that might have gone down an embankment. According to Steve Eisen, who is a freelance photographer on the scene, he called into us, he could see five of the those passenger cars that were overturned, one possibly down the side of the embankment over there.

You can see the rescue crews not only trying to -- there you go, there's another shot of one of the passenger cars. That has turned over. I don't know if this is one that possibly rolled down the embankment. But you can firefighters right now going in the passenger car, looking for survivors, and trying to bring them out -- there you go: one, two, three, four -- you can sort of get a wide shot here of the number of passengers cars that have turned over.

Right now we can confirm five, possibly six. We are told about 50 passengers can be seated in each one of these passenger cars. Right now, on top of one of the cars fire crews, rescue crews, with rope, going throughout the emergency windows, knocking out other windows, trying to get in there and bring out the injured and survivors of this derailment.

So far, we are told, no fatalities. That is great news.

Don't know why this derailment took place. But we can tell you is this Amtrak train was coming from Chicago heading to Washington, D.C. -- about 10 minutes before it was to arrive in D.C.

We talked to a survivor on the phone, Paula, from Chicago. She and her 13-year-old daughter were traveling from Chicago to Washington, D.C. They said they just felt a jolt, and, the next thing they knew, their passenger car was turning over. Someone in their area sitting next to them broke through an emergency window, and they got out alive. Pretty amazing story.

We are continuing to following this breaking news story, an Amtrak derailment there in Montgomery Country, Maryland -- Kensington, to be exact. About 10 minutes from Washington, D.C. As we get more information, we will bring it you. So far, no fatalities to be reported.

Quick shot there -- well, we missed it. There was one survivor coming through -- actually you could see some of the survivors actually coming out of there as rescue crews continue to work this scene.




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