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Neighbors help after train crash


"It's an opportunity to go in and minister to a lot of people."

—Earl Fitzgerald

As Amtrak train 30, the Capitol Limited, began to swerve off its tracks just ten miles outside of Washington, D.C. Monday afternoon, some passengers started praying.

"There were a bunch of women, who, when the train started rocking, said they could do nothing else than pray for each other," said Chaplain Skip Koritzer.

Of the 164 passengers, six were seriously injured and 97 were taken to area hospitals with minor injuries. Three passengers walked into the hospital.

"The agreement among everyone today is that this is nothing short of a miracle," Koritzer said.

Koritzer, who is part of the Maryland Fire Network, spent time Monday talking and praying with train passengers and rescue crews.

Coworkers Joe Devine and Ken Campbell were working at Quality District Tire, 300 yards from the accident. When someone told them of the derailment, the two rushed to the train and pulled people out of broken windows.

"They were very quiet people, they were just very calm," said Devine.

As Campbell was running to the wreck, he thought of another Amtrak accident near Silver Spring, Md., one that claimed 11 lives and injured 26 people. This train was running its route in 1996 when it collided with a Maryland commuter train just a few miles from Monday's crash.

"The train had caught fire [in 1996], and people were trapped," he said. "That was what went through my mind: just get down there and get those people out."

Volunteer firefighter Joel Van Akkeren was among the first crews to respond to Monday's accident.

"When I came, people just started spilling out of the train," he said. "It was chaotic. People couldn't get out on their own and they were scattered about the train."

Akkeren said most of the passengers were adults, and a lot of the passengers were elderly.

"They [elderly passengers] were just standing around looking totally bewildered," he said.

The heat, which witnesses unofficially speculated may have swelled the tracks and caused the accident, made rescue work hard. Firefighters, police, volunteers, NTSB officials, and media drowned in the high level of humidity and heat.

"We know the heat is a possible factor. Heat can cause a slight misshaping or a buckling in the rail," said NTSB Vice Chair Carol Carmody. "We're viewing this as an accident."

While an NTSB investigation team was on scene Monday reviewing possible causes of the accident, Carmody doesn't anticipate having an answer until 8 or 10 months. The train's two event recorders, which are similar to an airplane's "black box," were recovered from the wreck and will give investigators insight into the accident.

"The track is back open, and the investigation is continuing," said NTSB Spokesperson Lauren Peduzzi Wednesday afternoon. "It's so early in the investigation, we're just in the process of collecting information."

Peduzzi said the engineer driving the train took a drug test Monday -- a standard procedure -- but that it would take about a week to get results.

"I don't hear, 'why God?' that often," said Koritzer. "The first thing people asked was, 'did a terrorist do it?' or 'did someone put a rock on the track?' I tell them that, in time, with the proper perspective and a clear head, the answer of why they were inconvenienced like this will be revealed, and that if one good thing comes out of this tragedy then it will help."

Salvation Army Major Earl Fitzgerald spent time praying with passengers, too.

"Their emotions were from being stunned and shocked -- and just elation that nothing more serious took place," he said. "I had the privilege of praying with a few people and that's just what it's all about. People were very receptive."

Many from his crew helped rescue workers and members of the media stay cool by handing out water and Gatorade.

"We've gone through 70 cases of water and 55 cases of Gatorade," said Fitzgerald. "With the temperature as hot as it is, people need to keep drinking fluids."

The mass of response to this accident was "remarkable," said Carmody.

More than 200 firefighters, and a large number of police, medical personnel, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other volunteers worked tirelessly to take care of the passengers needs.

"It's an opportunity to go in and minister to a lot of people," Fitzgerald said. "Not only through things like spiritual support but to help with any need they have."

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More links on Train Crashes


Related Links:

• Find out more information about how the NTSB deals with accidents at their Web site.: National Transportation Safety Board

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