One dead, about 90 injured in derailment
NODAWAY, Iowa – An Amtrak train carrying 210 people from Chicago to California derailed in rural Iowa, killing one passenger, injuring about 90 others and leaving a zigzagging trail of silver cars along a muddy embankment.
At least seven of the injured passengers were hospitalized, and dozens of others were treated and released from area hospitals after suffering minor injuries. Some crew members sustained minor injuries, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.
The cause of the crash about 11:40 p.m. Saturday 70 miles southwest of Des Moines was unknown.
Terry Williams, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators were gathering details on the scene.
The California Zephyr’s two locomotives and 15 cars were carrying 195 passengers and 15 crew members, Amtrak spokeswoman Debra Hare said. Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said company policy forbids it from releasing the victim’s name and a list of passengers.
Charlie Romstad of Colorado Springs, Colo., said in a telephone call to The Associated Press that the passenger killed was his mother, Stella Riehl, 69, also of Colorado Springs.
Romstad, 46, said his mother came to Des Moines last week because her brother, who was living in a Des Moines nursing home, had died.
”We picked up the ashes on Saturday. She was taking them back to Colorado Springs when the accident happened,” Romstad said.
Amtrak spokeswoman Cheryle Jackson said at an Omaha, Neb., news conference that the victim was a passenger but she could not immediately confirm the person’s identity.
The scene of the wreckage stretched about one-fourth of a mile. Workers began picking up debris near the tipped-over cars, some of which formed a V-shape along the tracks.
Two silver cars lay across the railroad, and an overturned car lay parallel to the track in a muddy bank. Other cars teetered along the track near the snow-covered ground.
”I think everybody was amazed that there weren’t more fatalities and injuries,” said Nodaway Fire Chief Larry Pond.
Of the seven passengers who were hospitalized, at least two were listed in serious condition.
Shaheda Ula, 47, of Laramie, Wyo., was being treated for a broken hip at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
”It just shook and shook again, and everybody screamed,” she said from her hospital bed. ”I don’t remember anything after that.”
Her husband, Sadrul, was not injured, nor was her daughter, 14-year-old Nafisa.
The train left Chicago on time at 3:35 p.m. and was headed to Emeryville, Calif., according to the Amtrak reservation office. Romstad said the train was delayed about an hour when his mother boarded it in Osceola, Iowa, at 10:50 p.m.
Passenger Joseph Conn of Hobart, Ind., said one of the front train cars overturned and another was dangling from a 20-foot-high embankment.
”There was maybe more than 100 feet of shredded ties, shredded rails, torn up ballast on the roadway, just a torn-up mess,” said Conn, who was sitting near the back of the train.
Jim Anderson, who lives off a winding gravel road less than a mile from the crash site, said he was in bed when the derailment startled him and his dog.
”I thought my furnace blowed up. I heard a bunch of grinding and then boom,” he said. ”That dog of mine jumped out of bed and started growling at the window.”
Passenger Mary Clare Maloney, 16, of Des Moines, said she was on the top deck of a car playing cards with other students headed for a ski vacation.
”The first thing was where the lights flickered and went out,” she said. ”Then there was bump and that was not a big deal but we started going faster into the ditch.”
She said she waited more than an hour in the top level of the car to be rescued. Her train car was at a 45-degree angle, tipped so she walked on the wall and not the floor. ”That was kind of weird and dizzying,” she said.
Bryan Kannas, emergency management coordinator for the Adams County Sheriff’s department, said the derailment happened on a straightaway located between the communities of Brooks and Nodaway. That section of track is owned and maintained by Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad.
Steve Forsberg, a spokesman for Burlington Northern, did not know whether other train derailments had occurred along the stretch of tracks.
”I’m not sure of the history of this section of track but we’ll be digging into this,” Forsberg said.
Passengers were taken to a community center in Nodaway where they were served breakfast.
”They were kind of, like you’d think, shook up over it,” Nodaway Mayor Robert Pafford said. ”After they settled down a little bit, they realized they had sores here and there and they were just bumps and bruises.”
Uninjured passengers were then taken by bus to Omaha. Amtrak was arranging for shelter and alternate transportation. Amtrak has set up a toll-free number for relatives at 1-800-523-9101.
Hours after the derailment, Ben Mrugale held a green plastic hat with the signatures of several passengers. Over cocktails, Mrugale had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with them and was relieved to learn that they were OK.
”I checked today over here at the fire station and everybody that signed the hat is still here,” Mrugale said. ”So the luck of the Irish is still with us.”
On the Net:
National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.