Washington crash kills nine

June 23, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Jun 23 – Rescue workers searched through a mangled mess after a Washington metro train rammed into another one during rush hour, killing at least nine people and injuring 76, officials and media said Tuesday.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty described the Monday evening collision as the deadliest in the subway system’s 33-year history, as local media reported that nine people were found dead.

Rescuers used powerful blades to cut through the wreckage to find any more people trapped after a train slammed into a stationary one, forcing one subway car on top of the other and sending passengers hurtling through the air.

Fenty suggested the moving train may have been travelling too fast when it hit the stationary one.

The rear car of the lead train compressed like an accordion before leapfrogging on top of it on an above-ground portion of track on the heavily-used Red Line.

"It was going at a speed that would have made that initial car literally compress to about one-fourth of the original size," Fenty told CNN, strongly hinting the toll could rise.

"We have to go in (to the compressed rear car) and find out if there’s any remaining bodies."

Fenty confirmed six people had died, but local media reported later that three more bodies were found.

The collision involving the six-compartment trains took place at 5:02 pm (2102 GMT) near the Fort Totten Metro station, said Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) general manager John Catoe.

Rescue teams were seen carrying injured passengers on stretchers down the tracks as dozens of stunned passengers, safely evacuated from the train, stood by the tracks close to the collision site.

Survivors were helped down off the other carriages by rescue workers. Some were limping and were clearly hurt.

For passenger Abra Jeffers, the crash was a harrowing welcome to the nation’s capital, where he was heading home from his first day of work Monday.

"I was on the train that got hit. I thought it was an explosion," Jeffers, 25, told AFP. "I thought it was like the train bombings in London. There was smoke and dust everywhere."

Fire chief Dennis Rubin said crews would work through the night to make sure no one was still trapped in the wreckage.

"We have to at this time continue to act and behave as a rescue scene," Fenty said.

Among the dead was the female operator of the second train that rammed into the first as it awaited orders to proceed along the tracks, Catoe said.

"The next train came up behind it and for reasons we do not know ploughed into the back of the train," he added.

The glaring safety failure — whether human error or system malfunction — will raise serious questions among investigators just nine months after the last major US train crash.

Last September, 25 people were killed when the conductor of a commuter train in Los Angeles was sending text messages on his mobile phone while at the controls.

National Transportation Safety Board officials were at the scene of the Washington crash to investigate.

"We are committed to investigate this accident until we determine why this happened and what must be done to ensure it never happens again," Catoe said.

President Barack Obama said he and the first lady were "saddened" by the crash.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy," he said in a statement.

Thousands of government employees ride the metro into work each day in a five-line rail system that travels into the suburbs in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Officials warned commuters to avoid the Red Line on Tuesday.

Train passenger Jody Wickett told CNN she was texting a friend when she was sent hurtling through the air of the subway car.

"We felt like we hit a bump and about five or 10 seconds later, the train just came to a complete halt and we went flying," Wickett said.

"I went in there to try and help and (there was) debris and people pinned under and in between the two cars. We were just trying to get them out and help them as much as possible, pulling back the metal and whatnot."


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