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First Responder Calls Train Derailment 'Shocking' And 'Surreal'

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
An Amtrak Cascades passenger car dangles from an overpass over Interstate 5 in Pierce County, Washington, after a derailment on Monday morning.

As clean up begins, firefighters are describing what it was like to respond to Monday’s Amtrak derailment in Pierce County, Washington.

Shortly after 7:30 a.m. during the morning commute, an Amtrak Cascades train derailed. Rail cars were on the freeway and hanging from a bridge.

West Pierce Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jay Sumerlin said the scene was shocking and surreal even though first responders prepare for just this kind of disaster. 

“Something like this where train cars are precariously dangling over a freeway, that’s something that we do tabletops on and everybody comes in usually going ‘oh that’s not going to happen,’” Sumerlin said. “Well, here we are. That’s exactly what happened so I’m glad we train to that level, worst case, cause today that was one of those days.”  

Responding firefighters used the jaws of life and ladders to rescue passengers from the train cars. They even searched the car that was dangling from the bridge. There were also motorists in cars and semis below who were part of the wreckage. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."