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Survivors recount South Carolina train crash: 'I thought I was dead'

Survivors recount South Carolina train crash: 'I thought I was dead'
Crews investigate the scene of the fatal train crash Sunday in Cayce, S.C. (Tim Dominick / State)

Passengers aboard the Amtrak train that slammed into a freight train before dawn Sunday described being jolted from slumber as seats ripped away, awakening to screams and crying.

"It was shaking, then it started jumping," said passenger Eric Larkin, speaking with the Associated Press about the train's final moments. He said he was suddenly awakened as he felt the train leave the tracks as it hit a curve. His seat then broke loose, slamming him into the row of seats in front of him.

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It was in the panic that followed, Larkin said, that he heard screams and crying all around him as passengers sought to leave the crumpled train. Other passengers were bleeding, he said, and his right knee throbbed from where it banged into the seats in front of him.Two people were killed and more than 110 injured, authorities said.

Walking with a limp hours later, Larkin said he was dazed and didn't even know where he was when the train finally came to a stop.

Soon after he got off the train, Larkin said, arriving police officers told him to stop taking cellphone photos of the wreckage and not to share any of the images he had already captured.

"I thought it was a little strange," Larkin said of the request. Eventually he was shuttled to a middle school with other passengers.

"It's a blessing to be alive," Larkin said. "I thought that I was dead."

It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months. The Silver Star was en route from New York to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard when it struck the empty CSX train about 2:45 a.m., authorities said.

The crash happened near a switchyard south of Columbia, S.C., where rail cars hauling automobiles are loaded and unloaded.

Many of the passengers were asleep.

Andre Neblett, who played with the NFL's Carolina Panthers, told the AP that his 43-year-old mother, Tronia Dorsey, was on board. He said she described massive jolts.

"It was chaos," Neblett said, describing what his mother told him as he left an American Red Cross shelter where his mother's purple suitcase had been sent. "It's unbelievable."

In the third rail car, a seat had fallen onto Dorsey's legs, her son said. He added that she described "a lot of screaming" and babies crying in the dark rail compartment.

"She said she was just waiting on somebody to get to her," Neblett said, noting she was to have been picked up by a family member in Denmark, S.C.

Some passengers called their loved ones in the minutes afterward.

The State newspaper reports that Ryan Roberts couldn't believe it when his wife, Alexandria Delgado, awoke him with a call early Sunday to their Raleigh, N.C., home. He said he asked her to repeat herself three times when she said her train had derailed.

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He had left his wife and a female friend off at the Raleigh train station Saturday night so that they could take a trip to Florida. Roberts said he and the husband of the other woman drove for hours to reach Columbia, not knowing the condition of their loved ones.

Both women were banged up and still being treated later Sunday at a hospital and "in a lot of pain," Roberts said.

"They were sleeping and woke up to a nightmare," Roberts told the paper. "They were horrified."

On Wednesday, a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress to a strategy retreat slammed into a garbage truck at a crossing in rural Virginia, killing one person in the truck and injuring six people.

And on Dec. 18, an Amtrak train ran off the rails along a curve during its inaugural run on a route south of Tacoma, Wash., killing three people and injuring dozens. It was going nearly 80 mph, more than twice the speed limit.

Authorities investigate the scene of a fatal Amtrak train crash in Cayce, South Carolina.
Authorities investigate the scene of a fatal Amtrak train crash in Cayce, South Carolina. (Tim Dominick / Assocaited Press)

UPDATES:

6:20 p.m.: Updated with eyewitness accounts of the crash.

9:09 a.m.: Updated to raise number of injured to 116, and that the two people killed were Amtrak employees.

5:35 a.m.: Updated to raise the number of injured from 50 to 70.

This article was first published at 3:50 a.m.

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