The Amtrak train was about 40 miles south of Seattle when it approached a curve. With a jolt, it came off the tracks.
“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and then all of a sudden it felt like we were heading down a hill, and the next thing that we know we’re being slammed into the front of our seats and the windows are breaking,” Chris Karnes, a passenger, told CBS News affiliate KIRO-TV. “Then we stop, and there’s water that’s gushing out of the top of the train, and all the lights go out and people are screaming.”
He had been sitting in a car toward the front of the train, and the emergency doors weren’t working. He had to kick out a window with the help of other passengers to get out, jump into some bushes and climb onto an embankment that led to Interstate 5, he told the Seattle Times.
Passengers around him were bleeding, he said. One person was lying on the ground on the embankment.
“It looked like he might have been thrown from the train,” he said.
Military police, firefighters and medics arrived at the scene. For train cars that had derailed in the woods, rescuers were using chain saws to get passengers out, authorities said.
The train had been making its inaugural trip as part of a new rail service Monday morning from Seattle to Portland, Ore. — meant to cut the travel time between those cities — when it derailed in DuPont, Wash., while crossing a bridge above a busy highway, authorities said. At least 13 cars jumped the tracks.
A Washington State Police spokeswoman said three people had been confirmed dead and about 100 were transported to hospitals, many of whom remain in critical condition. It was unclear whether everyone had been accounted for.
“It felt like the end of the world, and I was standing amid the wreckage,” said Emma Shafer, a modern-dance student who had been napping with her shoes off when the train derailed, according to the New York Times. She was in a coach car that dangled from the bridge. A parent trapped nearby in the restroom with a baby banged on the door for help.
Patricia Freeman, a passenger who had been sitting in the lounge car, told All Things Considered on NPR that she felt a sudden lurch and instantly knew the train had come off the tracks. She tried to grab a table, she said.
“There was a huge impact on the side of the train and I just went flying to the other end of the car,” she said. “And then I was pinballing around on the floor of the car trying to catch a table leg or something.”
“I couldn’t see anything, it was pitch black and there was dust falling. And people were screaming,” she said.
An Amtrak employee was able to break open a window and told Freeman to escape through it, she said. They climbed up a steep, muddy hill.
“And then we just stood there in the rain looking down in disbelief,” she said.
The derailed train cars crushed at least two vehicles passing on the highway below. One train car somehow ended up under the bridge. Another dangled from the bridge, piercing the roof of the train car below.
Authorities said no one died on the highway, but at least five passenger cars and two tractor-trailers were badly damaged. A truck pulling an orange Hapag-Lloyd container had part of its cab crushed.
“When we first started pulling up, I heard yelling and screaming and sirens forever,” Corban Rakestraw told the Associated Press. He had been driving to work when he happened upon the derailed train.
Daniel Konzelman was driving down the highway when he and his friend saw the jumble of derailed cars. The emergency-response training he’d acquired during his Eagle Scout days kicked in, and Konzelman, 24, immediately pulled over, according to the Associated Press.
He and his friend climbed into train cars to look for victims. Some were pinned under the train; others appeared to be dead. Konzelman helped the passengers who looked as if they could move out of the train and tried to comfort those who looked seriously injured. He and his friend stayed for almost two hours.
“I wasn’t scared. I knew what to expect,” Konzelman said. “I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I saw a little bit of both.”
Maria Hetland had been driving to work on northbound I-5 when traffic suddenly slowed, according to the Seattle Times. As she drove up a hill, she rolled down her window and saw the train. Other cars had stopped, and people were walking around on the roadway. Some sat on the roadside, hugging blankets.
“I pulled over later and had a little meltdown,” she said.
There was smoke or steam but no sign of fire, Hetland said. She took a few photos and kept driving.
“It’s really upsetting,” she said. “It’s like something from a movie.”
This post has been updated.