Updated: Six people were killed and over 140 people hurt after an Amtrak train, carrying 243 passengers and five crew members, derailed and rolled onto its side in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia Tuesday night, according to officials.
Seven cars left the tracks near the 2000 block of Wheatsheaf Lane shortly after 9 p.m. The train, Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188, was heading to New York from Washington, DC.
“All of a sudden it felt like the brakes were hit hard and then our car,” said Michael Black, one of the passengers. “We were third from the last, just slowly started going over to the side. I tried to just brace my arm against it and then just got off.”
Local resident Daniel Hernandez, who lives close to the tracks, heard the derailment.
“It sounded like a bunch of shopping carts crashing into each other,” he said.
Hernandez says the crashing sound lasted a few seconds and he heard chaos and screaming.
Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed at least five people were killed in the derailment during a news conference late Tuesday.
“This was an absolute disastrous mess,” Nutter said. “I have never seen anything like it in my life. Many of these folks are not from Philadelphia. People looking for loved ones should go to Webster Elementary School.”
Nutter, who said the incident was a “Level 3 mass casualty event,” did not speak on a possible cause.
“We do not know what happened here,” he said. “We’re not going to try to speculate about that.”
Officials say at least 65 people were hurt and at least six of them are in critical condition.
“I’ve never seen anything so devastating,” said Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Jesse Wilson. “They’re in pretty bad shape. You can see that they’re completely, completely derailed from the track. They’ve been destroyed completely.
The aluminum shell has been destroyed and they’ve been overturned completely.”
The incident required a 4-alarm response, including 120 firefighters and 200 police officers.
Officials also say they don’t believe the incident was an act of terror and believe it was an accident based on preliminary information.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a go-team to investigate the derailment. NTSB investigator Mike Flanigon is leading the team as investigator-in-charge. NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt is accompanying the team and will serve as the main spokesman during the on-scene phase of the investigation.
Max Helfman, 19, of Watchung, New Jersey was on the train with his mother on the way home from New Jersey when the crash occurred. Helfman says they were in the last car of the train when they suddenly felt it shake. The car then flipped over.
“People were thrown to the ground,” Helfman said. “Chairs inside the train became unscrewed and suitcases were falling on people. My mother flew into me and I literally had to catch her. People were bleeding from their head. It was awful.”
Helfman says he saw smoke after the car flipped over.
“We were worried it may explode so we tried to get people out of the car,” he said.
Helfman says he helped some of the passengers squeeze through a door that was slightly open. Responding police officers then helped them through a back door.
After getting off the train, Helfman and his mother boarded a bus that traveled to Webster Elementary.
“I’m scratched and may have a concussion,” he said. “At this point it’s hard to tell.”
U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) was also on the train though he disembarked at the Wilmington, Delaware station about 40 miles south from where the train derailed.
“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. “I hope all of those that are injured recover quickly, and I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers.”