At least three people were killed and 50 others were injured after an Amtrak train derailed in Montana on Saturday afternoon, triggering a frantic response from rescuers who rushed to get passengers out of the cars, authorities said. .
Amtrak said eight cars on an Empire Builder train derailed around 4 p.m. local time near Joplin, MT, about 200 miles north of Helena. About 141 passengers and 16 crew members were on board, “with reported injuries,” Amtrak said in a statement.
The train consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars.
“Amtrak is working with local authorities to transport injured passengers and safely evacuate all other passengers,” the rail service said in a statement.
The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said three people had been confirmed dead.
Amanda Frickel, the disaster and emergency services coordinator for Hill County, MT, said in an interview that “well over” 50 people were injured. The train was heading west when it derailed, she said.
She said rescuers from six counties were responding to the scene and up to five hospitals were standing by to accommodate injured passengers. There were also a number of medical helicopters on standby, she said.
“Everyone who is alive has been pulled from the wreckage,” Ms. Frickel said.
Authorities had evacuated the survivors to two separate sites and were conducting a count. Rescuers planned to accommodate people in hotels once their medical needs were taken care of.
“Every county around is helping,” Toole County Sheriff Donna Whitt told Mt.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on twitter that he was launching a “go-team” to investigate the derailment.
Megan Vandervest, who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, boarded the train Friday night from Minneapolis, where she lives.
On Saturday afternoon, she was sleeping in the first car when she woke up with a start.
“My first thought was that we were derailed because, to be honest, I have anxiety and had heard stories of trains going off the rails,” Ms. Vandervest said. “My second thought was it’s crazy. We would not be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.
She quickly understood. The car she was in was fully on track.
But the car behind hers was overturned, the one behind that was fully overturned, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and pulled away from the train,” she said.
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where passengers were taken, Ms Vandervest said she felt lucky that she and the three other people she was with were not injured.
In her car, she said, it looked like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”
Austin Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general, said Montana Highway Patrol soldiers were among those helping with the rescue efforts. “We pray for the safety of all passengers and crew who were on board,” he said.
Karen Jelly, who works at Holland and Bonine Funeral Home in Havre, MT, said the funeral home was awaiting a dreaded phone call from authorities. “It’s going to be very bad when we get this phone call,” she said.
Ms Jelly, who moved to Le Havre nine years ago from Wyoming, said the area is extremely welcoming.
She said the community “comes together around people when things go wrong.” Now, she said, “It’s going to be ruined by this memory.”
Although Amtrak train derailments are rare, there have been fatal accidents in recent years.
In 2018, three people died after an Amtrak train traveled on the wrong track in South Carolina and crashed into a parked freight train. That same year, a train carrying Republican members of Congress struck a garbage truck in countryside Virginia, killing a passenger in the truck.
In 2015, an Amtrak train that was traveling over 100 miles an hour – twice the speed limit – rolled out of a bend in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.
Andrés R. Martínez contributed reporting.