NEW YORK — A commuter train roared off the tracks in the Bronx on Sunday, killing four people, injuring more than 60 and tumbling within inches of the Hudson and Harlem rivers.
More than 130 firefighters raced to the scene 100 yards north of the Spuyten Duyvil station, helping extricate passengers and crew. Rescue teams used giant inflatable air bags to lift one rail coach and rescue people who'd been thrown from the southbound train and were trapped underneath.
Some of those who died were ejected from the train, city Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said. The tragedy came one day after a freight train derailed in New Mexico, plunging 40 feet into a ravine and killing the crew of three.
The Bronx derailment, at about 7:20 a.m. Sunday, shattered the morning calm in one of the city's most bucolic neighborhoods -- a hilly, leafy site at the confluence of the two rivers. Four or five cars from the seven-car train derailed.
The train, on one of three lines operated by the often-disparaged Metro-North Railroad, originated at 5:54 a.m. in Poughkeepsie. The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a Go-Team to investigate the tragedy, and NTSB chair Deborah Hersman told CNN that investigators will be taking a "close look" at other problems on Metro-North lines in recent months.
Kelon McFarlane, 30, said he was in the fourth car reading his Bible when the train rounded the sharp curve at Spuyten Duyvil, which means Devil's Spout in Dutch.
McFarlane said he felt a strong force pulling the car to its side. He said he expected it to right itself, but that the car kept going and pandemonium broke out when the train car toppled over. McFarlane, a West Indian native who lives in Poughkeepsie, said he was able to climb free through the door. One woman in the car was screaming that she thought she broke her ankle.
"I don't know why I survived and other people didn't," said McFarlane, who was taken to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx with bruises on both legs and cuts on his hands. "I feel so bad. God was good to me."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who arrived at the scene later Sunday morning, said all train passengers and crew were accounted for. The cause of the derailment remained under investigation.
"What we do know is four people lost their lives in the holiday season after Thanksgiving," said Cuomo, who called for memorial prayers.
Cuomo said 11 of the 63 injuries were considered critical, with the remainder less serious. Families trying to get information about relatives or friends who were aboard the train were advised to contact New York City's 311 information system, Cuomo said.
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the train engineer "got banged up somewhat, but is conscious and alert." The engineer made some "unofficial statements" to investigators, but that information is being withheld for the NTSB, Kelly said.
Some local news outlets, including the Daily News, reported that the train engineer said he applied brakes but they didn't respond.
Frank Tatulli, a passenger on the train, told WABC-TV in New York that he takes the train every Sunday morning, and that it was travelling faster than usual as it approached a curve. Tatulli said he got out of the train on his own, but suffered head and neck injuries.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority President Tom Prendergast, who joined Cuomo for a briefing near the derailment site, said speed was one factor in the investigation. He also said the incident took place near the area of a July derailment, but was believed to involve a different track.
The White House released a statement saying President Obama had been briefed on the tragedy by Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism.
"His thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this incident," the statement said. "The White House will continue to stay in contact with the federal, state and local partners as they respond to this event."
Joel Zaritsky, 50, of LaGrange, had been bound for Manhattan and a dental convention.
"I was asleep and I woke up when the car started rolling," Zaritsky said, holding up a bloody right hand. "Then I saw the gravel coming at me, and I heard people screaming. There was smoke everywhere and debris. People were thrown to the other side of the train."
On his Facebook page, Zaritsky posted: "Just in the worst train accident of my life — very banged up, but I'm alive."
Charles Manley lives with his family on fifth floor of apartment house overlooking the tracks on Palisade Avenue. He said he was in bed when he heard a sound "like someone dropping a pile of pipes down next to your head" -- even though the crash was hundreds of yards away and below.
"There there was this long terrible sound of sheet metal screeching," Manley said.
Enrie Morales, 50, of the Riverdale section of the Bronx, said she was out for her morning walk along an escarpment overlooking the tracks about 60 feet below.
"It sounded like the earth rumbled," she said. She ran to the edge of the cliff and saw train cars spread across the tracks like toys.
She said that for many years when she lived north of the city she took this early morning train. The train has fewer cars than most, she said.
"At that hour it's always the same people, the same conductors. Everybody knows everybody" and many passengers are asleep, she said.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital said it was treating 17 patients injured in the derailment, four of whom were in critical condition. At St. Barnabas Hospital, physician Ernest Patti said 12 patients were treated , 2 in critical condition and 10 in stable condition.
The Metro-North's Hudson line serves New York City and Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties, ending in Poughkeepsie.
Service on the line was at first suspended from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Station. Later Sunday morning, Metro-North said rail service was restored from Poughkeepsie to Tarrytown. Passengers would then take buses to the White Plains station on the Harlem line, where they would catch trains to and from Grand Central Station.
Amtrak Empire Line service between New York City and Albany was suspended after the derailment, according to a service update on the national rail carrier's website. However Amtrak Northeast Corridor service between New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston was not affected, according to the update.
Sunday¹s derailment is the latest of several accidents and other issues for Metro-North. In September, a power outage at a substation knocked out service for tens of thousands of commuters and crippled the New Haven line for 12 days.
There have also been serious accidents:
-- On May 17, more than 70 people were injured when two Metro-North trains on the New Haven line collided and derailed during the evening rush hour near Bridgeport, Conn..
-- Less than two weeks later, a track foreman was struck and killed by a Metro-North train after a student rail controller mistakenly opened the work site to train traffic.
-- In July, a freight train using Metro-North tracks derailed in the Bronx, not far from Sunday¹s tragedy. Ten cars of a CSX freight train hauling trash derailed between the Marble Hill and Spuyten Duyvil stations, an area between narrow rock walls.
It dumped huge piles of garbage on the tracks and suspended Hudson Line
service between Yonkers and Grand Central Terminal.
Contributing: Bart Jansen and David Jackson, USA TODAY; Shawn Cohen and Khurram Saeed, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News