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Updates: Deadly smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza

January 13, 2015

 

Metro train riders are seen being shuttled on a Metrobus after commuters were evacuated Monday from the L'Enfant Metro station when smoke filled a Metro car. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Metro train riders are seen being shuttled on a Metrobus after commuters were evacuated Monday from the L’Enfant Metro station when smoke filled a Metro car. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

A woman riding on a Metro train died Monday and more than 80 other passengers were taken to hospitals, at least two in critical condition, after the train abruptly stopped, went dark and filled with smoke in a tunnel in downtown Washington.

Video from train car | Photos | Social media shows chaos | Tuesday commute | Latest story

  • John Woodrow Cox
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The Post will continue to provide coverage of Monday’s Metro tragedy on its home page. Also, read here about how to safely evacuate a Metro train and here to read about what happened last night.

Thanks for following this morning’s liveblog. Travel safe.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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On the morning after a Metro train inexplicably filled with smoke and a woman died, tens of thousands of rattled commuters boarded their lines Tuesday with a single question: What happened?

Keep reading.

  • John Woodrow Cox
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  • Gene Fynes
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Courtesy of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

(Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority)

Metro riders: After Monday’s fatal smoke-filled train catastrophe, here are some tips for what to do in an emergency.

First, there are call boxes at the end of each rail car. Riders can use the boxes to call the train operator if anything is amiss.

Metro also urges riders to listen to the train operator’s instructions. The train operator will tell riders if it is necessary to evacuate and how to do so.

If an incident occurs in a tunnel, as in Monday’s event, Metro said that, after a train stops:

* Look for the side of the tunnel with lights

* Pull the emergency door release

* Slide the door open on the side with tunnel lights

* Step carefully to the walkway (there may be a gap between the doorway and walkway)

* Wait for the train operator will tell you which way to walk

TIPS for tunnels: There is an Emergency Trip Station every 800 feet. They are marked with a blue light and have a call box. Dial “0″ to speak to Metro and follow instructions.

Signs also point to the nearest station. If directed by Metro, head to the nearest one.

Do not touch the train or track. Contact with the third rail, which carries high-voltage electricity to the train and has a white safety cover, will kill you, Metro said.

Also, stay clear of the track — trains can approach without warning.

For evacuating from an elevated track: Look for the side of the track with a railing and walkway, pull the emergency door release, slide that side’s door open and step onto the walkway. As in tunnels, there are emergency call boxes every 800 feet. Dial “0″ and speak to Metro.

Getting out on ground level: Exit on the side away from the other track and the third rail by using the emergency door release.

In stations: Look to the passenger information displays in the Metro station for information. A station manager will also give emergency instructions over intercoms. Riders can use those same intercoms — mounted in those large brown pillars — to talk to the station manager. Metro also advises riders to know all the exits of the stations you use most often.

— Victoria St. Martin

  • Katherine Shaver
  • ·

Several Metro passengers said they hadn’t been aware that Yellow Line trains still weren’t running. The Metro smartphone app didn’t mention it, they said, and some trains were still marked “Yellow Line.” When passengers reached L’Enfant Plaza, they heard an announcement saying Yellow Line trains would not be running to Huntington and were told to get off and take a Blue Line train instead.

Karen Dent said passengers on her train marked “Yellow Line” from Greenbelt asked each other why they hadn’t seen any Yellow Line notices on the Metro app.

“It was confusing for people,” said Dent, of Hyattsville, a client services specialist for a company downtown.

Asked whether she feels safe riding Metro, Dent paused and thought a moment. “I go back and forth,” she said. “Sometimes, like with the situation yesterday of course, you see your security is in the hands of the Metro system, but then I just depend on the Heavenly Father and I know in his hands I’m safe.”

Holiday Dinkins, 38, of Oxon Hill, said his 50-minute commute, which usually depends on riding the Yellow Line to Huntington, was taking an extra 30 minutes. His three-minute transfer between the Green and Yellow lines at L’Enfant Plaza turned into a 20-minute wait for a Blue Line train that would be a longer ride but would eventually divert to Huntington, he said.

Dinkins, who has his own bookkeeping business in Huntington, also said he didn’t leave early for work because the Metro app didn’t mention that Yellow Line trains weren’t running.

When asked whether he feels safe on Metro, Dinkins hesitated and said: “I look at it like this: When you’re not thinking about anything happening, that’s when it’s going to happen. I’ve been riding the train since I was 9 years old. I don’t worry about it.”

– Katherine Shaver

  • DeNeen L. Brown
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One man who was on the train that filled with smoke Monday was back at L’Enfant station on Tuesday morning.

John Vallejo, 48, a manager who lives in Woodbridge, described the incident:

“The train stopped. And almost instantly it filled with smoke. The operator kept announcing that they were trying to get the train started. It kept filling up with smoke. We thought everything would be okay. But after half an hour, people were going crazy. People were falling out. A lot of people started panicking. I started making 911 calls.”

Vallejo said that when he heard Tuesday morning the woman he tried to help had died, “I was upset. It didn’t have to happen.”

  • Katherine Shaver
  • ·

Toyin Harris, 40, of Silver Spring, said she’s felt unsafe riding Metro since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because the transit system seems as if it would be a prime terrorist target in the nation’s capital.

While she used to have panic attacks, she said, she’s learned to take deep breaths in train tunnels, where she doesn’t like the feeling of being stuck in a tight space when the train stops suddenly.

“I read my Bible and I pray, so I’m OK,” Harris said.

She said she saw in a TV news channel’s bottom-of-the-screen crawl line that someone had died in Monday’s smoky train incident, but she didn’t seek out more details.

“I didn’t focus on the news,” Harris said, as she rode the Red Line from Silver Spring to Farragut North. “If I had, my fear level would be a lot higher.”

Harris, a secretary for a telecommunications firm downtown, said she’ll continue riding Metro even though she doesn’t feel safe. Her only alternative would be the bus, she said.

As for thinking about scary incidents like the one that occurred Monday, she said, “I just really try not to go there.”

– Katherine Shaver

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Damek Fraser said if he had known there were going to be delays in his Tuesday morning commute, he would have just driven to work.

“I thought it was going to be resolved by this morning,” he said, waiting for the Blue Line train headed toward Huntington station.

Fraser, 32, said he usually takes the Yellow Line to Pentagon City from his home in Hyattsville. He said he heard rumors about Monday’s Metro incident but didn’t know precisely what happened until he read about it in newspapers Tuesday morning.

“It’s just another black mark for the Washington Metro,” Fraser said. “I almost feel bad for them.”

He said he’s not going to stop using the Metro anytime soon, and just hopes with time and new trains, the system improve.

– Paulina Firozi

  • John Woodrow Cox
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Lots of unhappy commuters this morning:

  • DeNeen L. Brown
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On Tuesday morning at L’Enfant Plaza, among the only clues of the previous day’s tragedy was the strong scent of fumes lingering in the tunnel. Hundreds of commuters hurried past a strand of broken yellow caution tape that hung from a rail at the top of an escalator. Some said they were unaware of what had happened. Others moved on despite residual fears.

An announcer on a loudspeaker reminded commuters that there was no Yellow Line service today: “Customers traveling in the direction of Virginia should go to the lower level and catch a Blue Line train.”

Jay Smith, a computer engineer from Laurel, leaned against a rail.

“It’s scary,” said Smith, 43. “But what can you do? I was concerned, but I know stuff happens. I believe if I was on the train and it was my time to go, then it’s my time to go. What can you do?”

He shrugged and boarded the next train headed for Branch Avenue.

  • John Woodrow Cox
  • ·

As rush hour peaked Tuesday morning, interviews with a dozen or so commuters at L’Enfant Plaza station — near where Monday’s deadly incident took place — revealed a wide range of opinions about Metro and its safety efforts.

“There’s always something with Metro,” said Rob Howard, 46, a government worker who commutes daily by rail. “It’s always an adventure. But I guess we’re stuck with it.”

Other riders disagreed, defending Metro.

“I feel much safer on Metro than driving,” said Pat Hastings, 58, an Army colonel who moved to the Washington area four years ago. “Yesterday was a tragedy, absolutely, and it’s horrible that it occurred… but I still feel that Metro is safer than any other way of getting around town.”

Many riders seemed to agree, at least, that they have little choice but to ride Metro, whether it feels safe or not.

– Joe Heim

  • John Woodrow Cox
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  • John Woodrow Cox
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At L’Enfant Plaza, people looked up at the screen, waiting to see when the next Yellow Line train would arrive. Many looked puzzled, glanced down at their phones, and back at the screen again. Station managers in bright yellow-green WMATA vests walked around, offering explanations.

“No Yellow Line today,” they told waiting passengers. “You either have to take the Green lines or Blue lines in the lower platform.”

Preston Jenkins, a Washington resident, said he had noticed a sense of confusion among many commuters Tuesday morning. He said people on his Green Line train headed to L’Enfant didn’t realize they would stop at the station.

Jenkins, 33, had heard about Monday’s smoke-filled train and, thanks to friends who took the Metro earlier Tuesday, he knew of the service changes before his commute.

“It was extremely unfortunate,” he said about Monday’s incident. “But I think the Metro is doing the best that they can. They work in a very prescribed type of service. They can’t just move tracks. So they’re doing what they can.”

Jenkins said his normal 40-minute commute to Crystal City would probably take only 20 minutes longer.

– Paulina Firozi

  • John Woodrow Cox
  • ·

The scene at L’Enfant Plaza, near where Monday’s incident occurred:

  • DeNeen L. Brown
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Kim Green, 45, a medical assistant who lives in Greenbelt, was nervous as the train pulled out of her neighborhood’s station.

“I am riding on faith this morning,” said Green, sitting next to the window alongside her daughter, 12, and her daughter’s best friend. “What is going on? Why in the heck was there smoke? That makes me afraid. There’s just no protection on these trains. I need to know what happened. It does make me nervous.”

  • John Woodrow Cox
  • ·

Metro passengers at the Huntington station in Alexandria were confused when, instead of Yellow Line trains, they saw the Blue Line waiting for them.

The Yellow had been suspended from Huntington to Largo Town Center, though Lindsie Butler, 31, didn’t know about the service changes until she arrived Tuesday morning.

Butler said she managed to get home on the Blue Line on Monday and didn’t hear about the incident at L’Enfant Plaza until she got home and saw the news.

“It’s scary. I can’t believe they couldn’t fix the problem quicker,” she said. “To think you can be trapped on this thing.”

Unlike at other stations Tuesday morning, Butler said she thought there were more passengers on the train than during her typical commute.

Butler, who lives in Alexandria, said she doesn’t expect much to change, which frustrates her. She said she’s frequently faced problems with the Metro during her 10 years living in the D.C. area.

“Prices [for the Metro] are so high and trains keep breaking down and getting delayed,” she said. “And no one’s fazed by it.”

– Paulina Firozi

  • John Woodrow Cox
  • ·

  • John Woodrow Cox
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  • John Woodrow Cox
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Malita Wright stepped off a Metro train at the Anacostia station a little after 6 this morning with a bag over her shoulder and a firm grip on the hand of her 3-year-old daughter, Kashmier.

Wright, 33, was on her way to drop the girl off at daycare before continuing to her job at St. Coletta of Greater Washington. The Clinton resident and her daughter ride Metro every day — and Wright dreads it.

“After the crash two years ago and now this smoke thing? And now they say the tracks are cracked? No, I don’t feel safe at all,” she said. “I have to take it, but I’m scared. And having to bring [Kashmier] makes it even more scary. I don’t think it’s as safe as I thought it was.

“Luckily, I only have to take it five stops,” she added. “With the dying and the crashing, it’s terrifying.”

– Joe Heim

  • John Woodrow Cox
  • ·

Metro said limited shuttle buses are available between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations. The buses are running every 20 minutes and boarding from the lower level of Pentagon’s bus bays and at L’Enfant from 7th Street SW and Maryland Avenue.

– Victoria St. Martin

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