Updated at 2:19 p.m. CST
At the height of the morning commute Monday, an Amtrak passenger train jumped its tracks and spilled off an overpass in Washington state. The Pierce County sheriff’s office confirms there were “multiple fatalities” and many people injured in the crash, which left the train dangling onto a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont.
The train, identified by Amtrak as the high-speed Train 501 from Seattle to Portland, was carrying 77 passengers and five members of the crew when it derailed above Interstate 5 around 7:40 a.m. local time. Nearly all of its cars and engines jumped the tracks, and at least one fell to the roadway below.
“Multiple cars and trucks were struck by train cars that left the train tracks and went down onto the road,” a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said. “The people that were in all the vehicles — even though when you see the pictures, it’s pretty horrific — at this point, nobody in any of the vehicles is a fatal.”
MultiCare Health System, a local network of medical centers, says that 22 people involved in the crash have been hospitalized at three of their facilities. Five patients have also been sent to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, two of which are in critical condition. Multiple other medical centers have reported receiving patients from the crash.
All told, The Associated Press says injured victims number in the dozens.
It remains unclear what caused the crash. But the train had never ridden the route it took Monday — as NPR’s Martin Kaste notes, this morning marked its inaugural trip on a more inland route than usual.
“Before this, it used to snake along the edge of Puget Sound but that slowed things down,” Martin reports. “This was supposed to be a faster, more direct route, but something clearly went wrong.”
The shift in route was met with deep skepticism from some residents in the area after it was announced. Indeed, as local media noted earlier this month, Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted a deadly accident would come of it.
“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens,” Anderson said, according to a local ABC affiliate.
For now, authorities are asking onlookers to stay away from the scene while first responders work. Amtrak posted a number for people inquire about any friends and family who were on Train 501.
Individuals with questions about their friends and family on train 501 should call 800-523-9101— Amtrak (@Amtrak) December 18, 2017
“We’re praying for everyone on board the train, and ask everyone to hold them in your thoughts,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted, adding his thanks to first responders on the scene — and a warning to motorists to avoid the “ongoing and serious emergency.”
He declared a state of emergency Monday to aid the response to the crash, which has also clogged one of the state’s busiest roadways, which some 60,000 people use every day. As the Northwest News Network’s Austin Jenkins told Here & Now, “this is Interstate 5, the main north-south thoroughfare through Washington state — and for that matter, up and down the West Coast.”
There is now a “large backup several miles long,” reports Anna King, also of the Northwest News Network. “They’re asking all drivers that can stay home to not drive at this time near this incident, as there are very few alternative routes.”
The state’s Department of Transportation says it does not know when that stretch of I-5 will reopen.
The deadly crash “shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” tweeted President Trump, who was briefed on the derailment. “Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”
He later added that his “thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, for its part, says it is opening an investigation into the incident and sending a team to the site Monday.
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