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At least 9 killed in Metro’s deadliest accident

UPDATED:

Investigators continued to sift for clues Tuesday into what caused a Metro train to crash into another, killing nine people, including the operator, and injuring 70 -- the deadliest subway crash in D.C. history.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty reduced the death toll by two Tuesday morning in the deadliest Metro crash in history. He said two are in stable condition and that one remains in critical condition following the red line accident that occurred at about 5 p.m.

Later in the afternoon, the number climbed back up to nine dead.

The red line train was headed into the nation's capital during the evening rush hour Monday.

The operator of the back train, Jeanice McMillan of Springfield, Va., was a Metro employee since January 2007, Metro spokesman Steve Taubenkibel told the Associated Press.

The crash, which occurred minutes after 5 p.m. near the Fort Totten rail station in Northeast, left twisted rail cars stacked on top of each other and scores of passengers limping from the wreckage while talking on cell phones. Hundreds of rescuers used heavy machinery to extract the injured.

"The scene is as horrific as you can imagine," Mr. Fenty said.

Mr. Fenty said more than 70 people were taken to hospitals. D.C. fire and emergency services Chief Dennis L. Rubin said six people were injured seriously, 14 suffered moderate injuries and more than 50 people received injuries not considered life-threatening.

"Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in Northeast Washington, D.C. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy. I want to thank the brave first responders who arrived immediately to save lives," President Barack Obama said Monday.

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said the six-car train slammed into the second six-car train between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations.

"The next train came up behind it, and for reasons we do not know, plowed into the back of that train," Mr. Catoe said.

Mr. Catoe refused to comment on the possible cause of the accident. But, apparently, one train slammed into the other as it waited for a third train to clear the Fort Totten station.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will take the lead in investigating the accident. Debbie Hersman, an NTSB board member, said a team of nine investigators was on the scene. FBI agents were also assisting with the evidence collection.

More than 200 emergency workers descended on the scene in the minutes after the crash, and rescue workers from several surrounding counties also pitched in. The workers used heavy rescue equipment to cut people out of the train debris, and fire officials deployed large ambulances called mass-casualty buses from the District and surrounding jurisdictions.

See related story: Train crash leaves indelible mark

Passengers interviewed afterward said that the accident occurred without warning and was accompanied by a loud, booming sound similar to an explosion and that the impact threw passengers onto the floor and against the train walls.

"You could just hear the train going on top of the other train," said D'Ana Williams, 27, who lives near the crash scene. "My grandmother thought it sounded like thunder. It sounded like two dump trucks colliding into each other."

"It [felt] like a shock," said William Graves Jr., 64, who was riding aboard the second train.

Mr. Graves said he dropped to the floor and covered his head. Another person pulled the emergency cord, and Mr. Graves climbed out, uninjured.

"I'm lucky," he said.

Train passenger Jody Wickett told CNN that she was texting a friend when she was sent hurtling through the air of the subway car.

"We felt like we hit a bump and about five or 10 seconds later, the train just came to a complete halt, and we went flying," Miss Wickett said, according to the Associated Press.

See related story: Metro-alert subscribers are among last to be told

Gale Griffin, who lives a half block from the crash site, said she heard a loud noise shortly after 5 p.m. It sounded "like a bomb went off," she said.

Alvaro Daniel Lopez said he went to a bridge overlooking the Takoma Metro station when he heard noise from the crash.

"I felt nervous because a lot of people were screaming," said Mr. Lopez, 25. "I had never heard things like that."

On Monday evening, Union Station was filled with Metro riders who could not get home. The line of about 100 people waiting for a taxi extended from the main entrance of Union Station all the way to the end of the massive building.

Becky Cole was one of the people waiting for a cab. She said she was on her way home from work and got on the train at a downtown station, but the train stopped and people were kept inside it for 45 minutes. Only then were they told there was an emergency and that they would have to exit at Union Station.

The partial shutdown of the Metro system disrupted the lives of thousands of area residents. Donna Robie said that Metro officials asked her to exit her train at Union Station and that they would provide a shuttle that would take her to a bus stop. But only one shuttle showed up -- 45 minutes later.

Monday's derailment comes more than two years after a subway train derailed near downtown Washington, sending 20 people to the hospital and prompting the rescue of 60 people from a tunnel.

That accident happened after the fifth car of a six-car, northbound train crossed a rail switch and left the tracks. Metro was running trains along one track between the Mount Vernon and L'Enfant Plaza stations when the accident occurred.

In November 2004, a six-car train with no passengers backed into an occupied train that was stopped at the platform in the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station on the Red Line. That crash injured 20 people.

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