“Multiple” people were killed early Monday when an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Washington state near the city of Tacoma, sending cars flying off a bridge and onto a busy interstate, officials said.
Pictures from the scene showed one train car overturned and crushed on the interstate highway and another dangling down from the overpass above.
The train, which was carrying 78 passengers and five crew, was part of a newly expanded faster rail service along the route linking Seattle and Portland, Oregon — featuring new locomotives.
It derailed during the morning rush hour at about 7:40 am (1540 GMT), about halfway between Tacoma and Olympia, the capital of Washington state.
“There’s multiple fatalities,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s pretty horrific,” he said.
Troyer put no number on the fatalities, but local media said at least three people were killed. None of the people in vehicles travelling on the highway below the train were killed, according to Troyer.
Local news outlets reported that dozens of people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.
“When we got to the scene, it was obvious there were fatalities and injuries, and some people were able to get off the train,” Troyer said.
“No fatalities on the roadway. As you can see by the large response, we have taken them out and people that were able to walk are under the tents being cared for by multiple groups,” he said.
Photographs posted online from the scene showed multiple cars having derailed from the train. At least two dropped onto the roadway below, a busy highway that connects Olympia to the busy Seattle metro area just to the north.
The accident snarled morning rush hour traffic and officials warned the highway, Interstate 5, would be blocked in that area for a long period of time.
“We had just passed the city of DuPont and it seemed like we were going around a curve,” passenger Chris Karnes told local CBS News affiliate KIRO-TV.
“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill,” said Karnes, adding that several cars had gone off the tracks and passengers kicked out the windows to escape.
“The next thing we know, we’re being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there’s water gushing out of the train. People were screaming.”
Karnes said the tracks were supposed to have been upgraded to accommodate higher speeds.
“I’m not sure what happened,” he said.