by Amy Hanson and Tarek Hamada
Joplin, Mont. (AP) – At least three people died Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train running between Seattle and Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, turning several cars on its side, officials said.
Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement that the westbound Empire Builder train derailed near Joplin, a city of about 200, at around 4 p.m. The scene of the accident is about 150 miles (241 kilometers) northeast of Helena and about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border with Canada.
Liberty County Sheriff’s Dispatcher Star Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. He didn’t have more details. Amtrak said in a statement that there were multiple injuries.
Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said about 141 passengers and 16 crew members were on board the train. He said the train had two locomotives and 10 cars, of which eight derailed.
“We are deeply saddened to learn that local officials are now confirming that three people have died in this accident,” Abrams said.
Megan Vanderwest, a passenger visiting a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times that she had woken up from the derailment.
“My first thought was that we were derailing, to be honest, I’m worried and I’ve heard stories of trains derailing,” said Vanderwest, who lives in Minneapolis. “My second thought was he’s crazy. We’re not going to be derailed. Like, it doesn’t happen.”
She told the Times that the car behind her had tilted, the car behind her overturned, and that the three cars behind her had “completely fallen off the tracks and separated from the train.”
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vanderwest said it felt like “extreme turbulence in the plane.”
Residents of the communities around the accident site quickly mobilized to help the passengers.
Chester councilwoman Rachel Ghekire said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who had been brought to a local school.
“I went to school and helped me with water, food, wipes off my face,” she said. “He seemed tired, shaken but happy that he was where he was. Some looked more chaotic than others, depending on where they were on the train. “
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.
Passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekire, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the accident.
Spokesman Eric Weiss said the National Transportation Safety Board would send a 14-member team, including investigators and experts from rail signals and other subjects, to investigate the accident.
Weiss said the derailment happened around 3:55 p.m. and that no other trains or equipment were involved. He said the train was traveling on the main track of BNSF Railway at that time.
In pictures posted on social media, railway vehicles and passengers standing on the side of the tracks are seen carrying some luggage. The images showed sunny skies, and the accident appeared to have occurred along a straight section of tracks.
Amtrak said that due to the derailment, Sunday the westbound Empire Builder train would end in Minneapolis, and Sunday the eastbound Empire Builder train would start in Minneapolis.
Other recent Amtrak derailments include:
– April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers are killed when an Amtrak train traveling at over 100 mph is hit in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.
– March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derails in southwest Kansas, derailing five cars and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and moved it at least a foot before the derailment.
– October 5, 2015: A passenger train from Vermont to Washington, D.C. derailed when it collided with rocks that fell onto the track from a ledge. A locomotive and a passenger car rammed an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.
– May 12, 2015: Amtrak train 188 was traveling at twice the 50 mph speed limit as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars derailed. Several cars overturned and were damaged.
Hamada reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Tom Crischer in Detroit contributed to this report.