Train Derails in Philadelphia, Killing At Least 5

At least five people were killed and more than 50 were injured when a northbound Amtrak train derailed Tuesday night in Port Richmond.
by | May 13, 2015 AT 11:00 AM

By Paul Nussbaum

At least five people were killed and more than 50 were injured when a northbound Amtrak train derailed Tuesday night in Port Richmond.

In the moments after the derailment, scores of emergency personnel swarmed over more than a half-dozen toppled train cars, trying to reach the dazed, the injured, the dying.

Some people were reported trapped in the train, and crews were cutting into the cars to try to free the injured.

Ladder 10 was the first to respond to the scene. When firefighters arrived, they found two people under the train, a fire official said.

Train 188, bound to New York City from Washington, had left 30th Street Station about 8 p.m. _ minutes before the accident, which occurred near a curve at Wheatsheaf Lane and I-95.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, speaking late Tuesday at the scene, described it as "an absolute, disastrous mess."

"We do not know what happened here," said Nutter, who arrived about 10:30. "We are not going to speculate about it."

He said that at least five people had been killed and that it was not clear that all passengers and crew had been removed by midnight.

"It is a devastating scene down there," Nutter said. "The engine completely separated from the rest of the train. . . . It is incredible."

Initial reports indicated the train derailed as it entered the curve. Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said 10 cars derailed.

There were about 238 passengers and five crew members on the train, Amtrak said.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and injured in this accident. We are assembling on site and will begin a thorough investigation into the cause of this accident," said acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it was sending at least eight investigators to the scene.

Every police wagon in the city was sent to the scene, along with more than 200 officers, and scores of firefighters and paramedics.

At Aria Frankford, below the tracks of the Frankford line septa, Ede Sinkovics, 44, emerged shaking for a cigarette break before returning to hospital care.

Sinkovics, an artist in residence in Trenton, N.J., originally from Hungary, was hit in the chest and leg when the train's chairs dislodged from the force of impact.

"I was looking at my computer when I felt the car start to shake and the lights flipped, flashed," he said.

He held onto his seat to avoid being thrown about the cabin.

"Other people, they had broken mouth, there was loud screaming," he said.

Asked how he would get home, as a train passed overhead, Sinkovics said, "Not the train, no more trains."

Nearby Frankford Avenue was blocked with police tape and walls of police cruisers, SUVs, vans, and fire trucks. As police lights flashed and helicopters whirred, residents gathered on street corners to try to see anything they could.

Mary Barcellos of New York walked away from the train with her right shoe missing, leaving her foot bare. Other passengers around her limped and had grease-covered faces as police motioned them toward buses for the hospital. One man covered his bloodied face with a white cloth.

"It just tilted like you were going around a sharp curve, and then it just flipped all the way over," Barcellos said of the train.

She said the train landed upside down and jolted her to a window. She was lying on the window after the crash. The woman next to her had a broken leg, she said.

"I'm very lucky," Barcellos said, her glasses still intact.

Temple University Hospital remained on standby at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, with doctors and nurses waiting outside the emergency room. Patients continued to arrive as late 12:30 a.m., while people looking for loved ones were ushered into a waiting room.

An Associated Press manager, Paul Cheung, was on the train when it went off the tracks. He told the wire service that he had been watching Netflix 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."

He said he saw passengers trying to escape through the windows of cars tipped on their side.

"The front of the train is really mangled," he said. "It's a complete wreck. The whole thing is like a pile of metal."

In a statement Tuesday night, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said: "My thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by tonight's train derailment. For those who lost their lives, those who were injured, and the families of all involved, this situation is devastating. I want to sincerely thank our first responders for their brave and quick action. I am closely monitoring the situation and I am in contact with state and local authorities."

Thomas Schultz, 31, who lives in Port Richmond, and his fiancee were in line at a nearby Wal-Mart store when he thought he heard thunder.

"Everybody in the Wal-Mart looked up," he said, adding that no one was alarmed.

Then, on the drive home, he saw about 20 police vehicles speeding toward the tracks.

He figured something was up. When he got home, he turned on the news and saw the disaster.

The area where the derailment occurred is normally under a speed restriction, requiring trains to slow down as they approach. The speed of Train 188 at the time of the accident was not immediately available.

Other hospitals receiving injured passengers included Aria Health's Frankford Campus and Temple University Hospital. SEPTA buses arrived to carry less critically injured passengers from the scene.

The accident's effects on commuters were expected to stretch well into Wednesday. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service was canceled Tuesday night, and SEPTA's Trenton and Chestnut Hill West lines were also scrapped, with Trenton service unlikely to resume Wednesday, the agency said.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said he was sitting on a bench in the cafe car when the train began to topple.

"It went to my right, then to my left. Everyone who was on the left side of the car, where I was sitting, just got thrown completely over to the right side."

Murphy tweeted a photo from inside a wrecked train car. He said he was uninjured and trying to assist other passengers.

Murphy, an Iraq war veteran from Bucks County, said he helped around half of the people on the two cafe cars get out, then stayed with 11 others who couldn't.

"A lot of people panicked," he said. "Some seemed pretty bad. One guy couldn't move his leg at all." Another was unconscious.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del, had been sitting just across from Murphy for most of the ride before getting off in Wilmington, Murphy said.

"I would have literally landed right on top of him, head first," Murphy said.

"I am grateful to be home safe and sound in Wilmington, and my heart goes out to all those on the train tonight," Carper said in a statement. "I hope all of those that are injured recover quickly, and I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers."

Jeremy Wladis was on the last car of the train when he felt the jolt. The 51-year-old New York man, who had been in Washington for work Tuesday, said he saw "phones, laptops, everything flying."

"There were women launched up in the luggage rack," he said about 11:45 p.m. at Webster School, where he and about two dozen others were being interviewed by the police and trying to find ways home. "I don't even know how they got there."

He said he and others helped the women down after the train came to a rest.

Daniel Wetrin, 37 of New York, said the initial shock was gentle, "compared to what came next."

"Within two seconds, it was chaos," he said.

The Rev. Tom Higgins, pastor at nearby Holy Innocents Church, was watching a hockey game when he heard the crash and walked to the scene to take a look. He spoke with police and then decided to go to Webster.

"I don't really know what I can do, but you want to try and comfort people if you can," he said. "Just sit with them and give them comfort."

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer