PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — Fighting to save lives. Mourning the dead. And figuring out why this came to be — how an Amtrak train could suddenly derail, sending its cars and passengers flying.
That was the stark reality Wednesday morning, as relatives raced to the sides of their injured loved ones and rescue workers scoured the mangled wreckage of Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 in Pennsylvania.
Amtrak train derailment
The train left Washington on Tuesday with 238 passengers and five crew members aboard, heading for New York. But it never made it, derailing around 9:30 that night in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The crash killed six people, one of them a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman, according to a source close to the Annapolis, Maryland, school.
Hospitals have treated another 150 people, at least half of whom have been released. That figure includes eight in critical condition among the 25 wounded passengers at Temple University Hospital — the closest trauma center to the crash site — Herb Cushing, the hospital’s medical director, said Wednesday morning.
He said many passengers were injured when other passengers or objects fell on them.
Authorities have not ruled out the possibility of more victims at the crash site.
“It is an absolute, disastrous mess,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
The miracle may be how some escaped relatively unscathed, given the severity of the derailment, which included the train’s engine and all seven cars.
A U.S. Department of Transportation representative told CNN on Wednesday that the engine and two cars were left standing upright, three cars were tipped on their sides, and one was nearly flipped over on its roof. The seventh one was “leaning hard.”
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene Wednesday morning to investigate.
So far, there’s nothing to indicate the incident was an act of terrorism.
And Philadelphia’s mayor said there’s no indication that another train had anything to do with the derailment.
“We do not know what happened here,” Nutter said. “We do not know why it happened.”
The moment of impact
“Until the second of impact, everything was normal,” passenger Daniel Wetrin told CNN. “Then it was just chaos.”
Jeremy Wladis was in the very last car, eating.
“The next thing you know, the train starts doing funny things, and it gradually starts getting worse and worse,” he said.
Then, things started flying — phones, laptops. “Then people.”
“There were two people in the luggage rack above my head. Two women, catapulted (there).”
Firefighters arrived to find seven cars and the train’s engine derailed. Most of the passengers were able to escape, climbing out of windows to safety. Crews had to cut through the cars to get to others.
‘Please make it stop’
Janna D’Ambrisi was in the second-to-last car, reading a book when she felt the jolt.
“Suddenly it felt like we were going a little too fast around a curve,” she said.
The car she was in started to tip, and she was thrown onto another girl.
“People started to fall on us,” D’Ambrisi said.
“I just held on to her leg and sort of bowed my head and I was kind of praying, ‘Please make it stop.’ “
Fortunately, her car didn’t tip over and she was able to make it out safely.
‘Heavily used stretch of track’
The Northeast Corridor, which reaches from Washington to Boston, is the busiest passenger line in the country.
The area of the crash in Philadelphia, known as Frankford Junction, was the site of one of the nation’s deadliest train accidents; the Congressional Limited crash of 1943 killed 79 people.
“It’s an extremely heavily used stretch of track,” transportation analyst Matthew L. Wald said of the area. “They have trouble keeping it in a state of good repair.”
The derailment was Amtrak’s ninth this year alone, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, and while its cause has not yet been determined, some, like Wald, are already discussing the nation’s aging rail infrastructure.
“The President has been a longtime advocate for investing in our infrastructure and making sure that we have the kind of 21st century infrastructure we know is going be critical to the success of our country,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on CNN’s “New Day.” Earnest said that the Obama administration is “hard at work” trying to figure out what caused the crash, and that their thoughts and prayers are with the families of everyone effected.
Service between Philadelphia and New York City remained suspended Wednesday, according to Amtrak. Those seeking information about friends and family aboard the train can call an Amtrak hotline established for this incident: 1-800-523-9101.
CNN’s Sara Sidner reported from Philadelphia; Kevin Conlon and Saeed Ahmed reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Rene Marsh contributed to this report from Philadelphia; Greg Botelho, Catherine E. Shoichet, Tony Marco, Janet DiGiacomo, Sam Stringer and Holly Yan contributed to this report.