NBC News
An aerial view of Tuesday's Amtrak derailment in rural central Mississippi..
updated 4/7/2004 4:01:02 PM ET 2004-04-07T20:01:02

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train jumped its tracks in a swampy area of the Mississippi Delta, killing a 68-year-old passenger and injuring nearly 60 other people.

The nine-car train, traveling from New Orleans to Chicago, derailed Tuesday night near the town of Flora, tumbling five or six feet off a trestle approximately 25 miles north of Jackson.

Many rescuers had to use off-road vehicles to reach the accident site because of woods and soggy ground.

“I heard the engineer blowing the horn, then we started jerking around. I heard horrible sounds and then I was looking at the stars and the leaves on the trees,” passenger Mary Turnage, 72, said.

Turnage said she was thrown from the rail car and onto a rock embankment.

“All I could say was, “Oh, Lord, oh, Lord, help us,” she said.

Chicago woman killed
A spokesman for Amtrak, Dan Stessel, said 68 passengers and 12 crew members were on the train. He said he had no information on what caused the accident.

The dead passenger was identified as Clara L. Downs, 68, from Chicago. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 58 people were treated at hospitals, two of them critically injured and seven severely injured. Gov. Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency.

Downs’ husband, Willie Downs, said he had been planning to pick her up at the Amtrak station Wednesday morning.

“I have to go down there and get her body and get all the funeral arrangements. So I’ve got a long road ahead of me,” he told WGN-TV in Chicago.

“We was high school sweethearts. We’ve been married since 1955, November the 29th. She was a very religious woman,” he said.

Representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration were at the scene Wednesday. Lea Stokes, of the state emergency management agency, said the FBI sent agents even though the derailment was believed to have been an accident.

The track is owned and maintained by Canadian National/Illinois Central Railway, Amtrak said.

A train carrying hazardous chemicals crashed on the same section of tracks in 1997, forcing the evacuation of about 4,000 people. Three other freight trains have derailed within a five-mile stretch — one in 1986 and two in 1994.

Nine cars derail
The train consisted of one engine, one baggage car, seven passenger cars and one unoccupied passenger car. Amtrak said all nine cars derailed, with the first seven coming to rest on their sides. The locomotive remained on the track, which was twisted and heavily damaged.

Stessel said the train had made several stops after leaving New Orleans, and derailed near the Yazoo-Madison county line, before its next scheduled stop in Yazoo City.

It was Amtrak’s first passenger fatality since April 18, 2002, when an Auto Train derailed at Crescent City, Fla., killing four passengers and injuring more than 150 people. Last May, an Amtrak engineer was killed when a train struck a lumber truck in Georgia. The truck driver also died.

The City of New Orleans runs almost the same route between Chicago and New Orleans as was used by the original Illinois Central train with that name, immortalized in Arlo Guthrie’s hit song.

On March 15, 1999, a southbound City of New Orleans train hit a truck loaded with steel girders and derailed near Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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