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Amtrak train derails in Hanford
Numerous injuries reported
HANFORD — Three friends driving four-wheel quads experienced an adventure of a lifetime when they witnessed the derailment of an Amtrak train following a collision with a semi truck Monday afternoon near here.
They were the first on the scene when they rushed to help rescue passengers.
Raymie Howard, 23, Andy Saiz, 31, and Leslie Saiz, 39, were in the back yard area of their home — empty fields bordering Kansas Avenue and 10th Avenue, just south of Hanford — when a semi truck with two trailers hauling cotton trash hit the last car of an Amtrak train heading to Bakersfield.
“I was just standing in the back yard while one of the other guys was on the quad when BOOM,” Howard said. “It looked like the whole back train was on fire.”
But what looked like smoke turned out to be black, thick dust.
The crash injured about 40 of the train’s 170 passengers, but none seriously. Even the driver of the truck suffered only minor injuries.
“I ran over there. It was incredible,” Howard said. “That truck was going west but after hitting the back end of the train, it flipped 180 degrees and ended up facing the opposite way.”
Howard and the Saiz brothers were the first on the scene at the railroad crossing on Kansas Avenue. The glanced at the train, they said, and saw it “wobbling” down the tracks.
“Everything was gone. His engine was gone. The cab of the truck was gone. All that was left was one small bubble where the driver sat,” Howard said. “The dude was just sitting there, not making any noise. He wasn’t responding — he was unconscious.”
A few seconds later, the man began to moan.
“I didn’t want to touch him. Just then a probation officer pulled up and said the train had just derailed,” Howard said. “He was checking the truck driver and hehad merun up thetracks looking to see if any passengers had been thrown out of the train. We never saw anyone along the way.”
But as they approached thederailed train,thesight was frightening.
“People were coming out with broken arms and broken legs — you could tell just by looking at them andthewaytheyheldtheir [limbs.] There was a lot of crying. Even people who were not hurt were all crying,” Howardsaid.“Everyone was freaking out.”
Howard said he saw a lady with a crying month-old baby covered in what appeared to be black soot and dirt.
“It scared me. I took off my shirt and gave it to the lady to clean the baby’s face up,” Howard said. “The baby was not even hers. She had picked it up and was looking for the mother.”
Andy Saiz said he was on the quad, heard the hit, andlookeduptoseeahuge cloud of dust.
“It was so thick, I could not see in front of me. It was bad,” Andy Saiz said. “I was shocked. There was no motor left to the truck. It was gone. The drivers’ feet were hanging off the bottom of the cab that was now gone. I kept shouting ‘Can you hear me?’ but got no response.”
Saiz rushed to the train and saw a lady with a broken arm, he said.
“The [passengers] were coming out of the doors and getting pulled out of windows,” Andy Saiz said. “There were a lot of old ladies and old men covered in black dirt.”
LeslieSaiz said hetalked to one of the men.
“His face was all bloody and he had dirt and glass all over his face so I ran to help him,” Leslie Saiz said. “He said he was sitting looking out the window as thetrain was crossing [Kansas Avenue.] He saw the truck and the way he told it, the truck only slowed. It did not stop completely.”
Leslie Saiz said the passenger told him hethought the driver miscalculated the train’s passing.
“It seemed like he slowed to let the train pass but then either he sped up or the train slowed, and the truck hit the last train car,” Leslie Saiz said. “At least that’s what it sounded like.”
The collision occurred a few minutes after noon on Monday — with the first 9-1-1 call received at 12:22 p.m., said Jerry Pierce, California Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer, Hanford office.
“Two minutes later we got an updatethat thetrain wasinfactanAmtraktrain and that some of the cars had partially overturned,” Pierce said.
Thecollision was reported as occurring on Kansas Avenue at the rail road crossing, between 10th and 10 and a half.
“The train came to rest about two football fields past the point of impact,” Pierce said.
The driver was pulling two trailers of ‘cotton trash’ and had minor to moderate injuries.
As Pierce checked on the driver, emergency personnel had been on the scene for an approximate 30 minutes.
“The majority of the passengers were checked and treated just outside the train,” Pierce said.
Brett Blanchard, who was identified as the engineer of the Amtrak passenger train that collided with the semitrailer, did not appear to be injured.
Pierce placed an initial report of an approximate 150 to 200 passengers on the train, which had just leftHanfordandwasheading to Bakersfield.
“The initial report of the injured is between 30 and 50,” Pierce said. “Most of the injuries are minor. I have not heard of any major or severe injuries. No one was transported by lifeline — indicating serious injuries — away from the scene.”
Pierce also praised the prompt help from numerous entities, including Kings County Sheriff, Hanford Police Department,Kings County Probation, Kings County District Attorney’s Office, Kings County Fire Department and fire volunteers, Hanford Fire Department and volunteers, and other fire personnel.
Numerous ambulances responded to the site and a triage area sorted passengers based on their need for immediate medical treatment.
The injured were transported to hospitals in Hanford, Tulare and Visalia.
TulareRegional Medical Center reported receiving 10 patients for medical evaluation, and Kaweah Delta District Hospital, Visalia, reported having received nine patients with moderate injuries and four more on enroute at 3:39 p.m.
The majority of the passengers were transported by Hanford Joint Union High School District buses to the Hanford Civic Auditorium.
“From there, those that choose to, will be transported by Amtrak to a connection in Bakersfield,” Pierce said. “I was told the [rail] line will be down a minimum of four hours, and that was at 2 p.m., so we’re looking ‘till 6 p.m. at least.”
Members of the public who think they may have a family member involved in the incident sould call Amtrak at 1-800-523-9010.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.