At least five people were killed and more than 140 were injured when an Amtrak train headed to New York City from Washington derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night, according to officials.
Officials say seven cars derailed on the 2000 block of Wheatsheaf Lane in Frankford at about 9:20 p.m.
"This was an absolute disastrous mess," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "I have never seen anything like it."
Nutter said seven of the 10 cars on the Amtrak Regional 188, including the engine, "are in various stages of disarray" after derailing. The train was due to arrive at New York's Penn Station at about 10:30 p.m., officials said. There is currently no Amtrak train service at Penn Station as a result of the crash.
There were 243 people on board the train, including five crew members, Nutter said at a news conference late Tuesday night.
Officials said more than 140 people were hospitalized and at least six of them are in critical condition. Victims were taken to Temple University Hospital, Aria Health-Frankford, Hahnemann University Hospital and the Albert Einstein Medical Center.
Nutter said most of the passengers are expected to be New York, New Jersey or Washington, D.C. residents. He said he is working with Mayor de Blasio, as well as Washington, D. C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in the relief efforts.
The fire chief said at the news conference: "I have never seen anything so devastating."
Amtrak has set up a hotline for concerned friends and relatives at 800-523-9101.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life from Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 that derailed north of Philadelphia Tuesday evening," Amtrak officials said in a service alert.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was gathering information about the derailment and was launching an investigative team, which would arrive at the site Wednesday morning.
NBC Nightly News producer Janelle Richards was on board the train in the last car, and heard a loud crash, and then people flew up in their seats.
"I was in complete shock," she told NBC 4 New York's Chuck Scarborough and Sibila Vargas in a phone interview during News 4 at 11. "And the train started to fill with smoke and I looked to my left and there was a woman in the aisle with blood coming down her face. And after a second, myself and other people just started asking, 'How do we get off the train? How do we get off the train?'"
Richards said the passengers in her car were able to get out of the car through a back exit, which someone had pried open wide enough for people to climb through and emerge onto the ground.
As they got out of the train car, the passengers quickly retreated from the train tracks because they were afraid the overhead electrical poles would collapse inward, Richards said. They warned each other to "watch out for the wires, watch out for the wires" as they exited the train.
"I just remember looking up and seeing two large electric poles and they were leaning in, and I just kept thinking, 'Are these poles going to crash down on the train?'" she said.
"It was absolutely surreal," added Richards.
Richards spoke to NBC 4 New York from Hahnemann Hospital, where she said those who were able to walk off the train were waiting to speak to officials, and were "shocked and stunned."
"One woman I'm looking at now, her face is covered in what looks like ash, someone else is bleeding from the back of their head with blood on their button-down collared shirt," she said. "People are crying, they're in hysterics."
A New Jersey teen who was on the last car of the train made it out with just a few scratches, but he told NBC News his mother may have suffered some broken ribs.
"My mother flew and I literally had to catch her," said 19-year-old Max Helfman of Watchung.
Helfman, a freshman at Emory University, said people were thrown to the ground, chairs inside the train became unscrewed and suitcases fell over onto passengers at the car flipped over. A door was slightly open, so passengers helped each other squeeze through it fearing the train might explode.
Those who were uninjured were taken by bus to an elementary school where Helfman waited for his father to pick him up.
"I'm scratched and may have a concussion," Helfman told NBC News. "I'm still shocked this even happened."
Patrick Murphy, a former congressman from Pennsylvania's 8th District and an Iraq War veteran, was also on the train. He told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell that he was in the cafe car when the train jolted.
“It wobbled at first and then went off the tracks. There were some pretty banged-up people. One guy next to me was passed out. We kicked out the window in the top of the train car and helped get everyone out," he said.
A few people were injured to the point where they could not move, said Murphy. One person did require a stretcher. Murphy said the paramedics arrived within 8 to 9 minutes.
The crash took place in Northeast Philadelphia, within the city limits, so the train was starting to reach its maximum speed.
"We do not know what happened here," said Nutter. "We do not know why this happened. We are not gonna speculate about it."
SEPTA regional rail service is suspended until further notice on the Chestnut Hill West and Trenton Regional Rail lines due to the accident.
Frankford Junction, the scene of Tuesday night’s deadly derailment, has seen devastation before. In 1943, the Congressional Limited careened off the tracks with 541 passengers on-board including many service members on leave. Seventy-nine passengers were killed and 117 were injured in one of the worst rail disasters of its day.
Another Amtrak train, bound for New Orleans, crashed on Sunday. That train struck a flatbed truck at a railway crossing in Amite, killing the truck's driver and injuring two people on the train.
In March, at least 55 people were injured when an Amtrak train collided with a tractor-trailer that was stuck on the tracks in North Carolina.
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