British Columbia

Motorists drive into 'scary and shocking' scene of Amtrak derailment

Several people are dead after an Amtrak train hurtles over a bridge onto Interstate 5 in Washington state, creating what one witness describes as a chaotic and "very scary" scene.

'People were trapped under the train and kind of pinned,' witness says

Cars from an Amtrak train that derailed above lay spilled onto Interstate 5 alongside smashed vehicles Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. The Amtrak train making the first-ever run along a faster new route hurtled off the overpass Monday near Tacoma and spilled some of its cars onto the highway below, killing some people, authorities said. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Several people are dead after an Amtrak train hurtled over a bridge onto Interstate 5 in Washington state on Monday, creating what one witness described as a chaotic and "very scary" scene.

Greg Mukai was driving down I-5 south, a highway that runs parallel to the tracks, when the cars in front of him started braking violently.

"All of the traffic around me, including myself, we had to come to a sudden and complete stop — to the point that cars were darting to the sides of the freeway to avoid colliding with one another," he said in an interview with CBC News Network.

"We looked up to see why the traffic had stopped and I was about 50 yards away from the result, which was the train had derailed, come off of the overpass and collided onto the highway."

"Cars were impacted, and it was a very scary moment."

Mukai, who tweeted videos of the scenes around him, said that people immediately began getting out of their vehicles to try and help, and that personnel from a nearby military base also rushed to the scene.

When emergency responders arrived, they asked people stuck on the freeway to move their cars to the side, so that ambulances could get through, he said. 

The derailment occurred on the first day that Amtrak trains began using a new track between the cities of Tacoma and Olympia, Wash., part of a project to reduce travel time, according to state transportation authorities.

Deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state

5 years ago
Duration 0:57
Aerial and ground footage show the destruction in Pierce County, south of Seattle, after an Amtrak train en route to Oregon crashed on Monday morning.

The new route takes trains along Interstate 5, eliminating a major bottleneck for passenger trains in Tacoma and allows trains to reach speeds of 127 km/h, the state's transportation department said in a  news release in October. 

"It's all just very scary and shocking, especially to know this was the first attempt to use this track for this purpose, and people were fatally injured as a result of it," said Mukai.

"It's just very tragic especially ahead of the holidays."

Kirk Dahlke, a local orthodontist, headed to the family reunification centre set up at DuPont City Hall when he heard about the accident. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

When Kirk Dahlke heard about the accident, he headed to the family reunification centre set up at DuPont City Hall, his arms loaded with water and snacks.

"I just heard that they had need and heard the first responders need help," he said.

"I can't imagine what people were thinking as they were commuting down there. Why did it happen, why did it happen there?"

"DuPont is a super close knit community, we help each other out." he said. "It's definitely left an impact on us.

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency. The National Transportation Safety Board said it has a team of investigators on the way from Washington, D.C.

With files from Yvette Brend, Reuters and The Associated Press