Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) Two people have died, and at least 100 are injured, after an Amtrak Train headed from NY to Miami collided with a freight train near the intersection of Pine Ridge Drive and Charleston Highway Sunday morning. People stared dialing 911 immediately after the collision happened at 2:35 a.m.
Firefighters from South Congaree quickly arrived on the scene and encountered what they described as “walking wounded” trying to make their way down the track to the nearest road. Fire and EMS personnel quickly began to muster them into a triage area, and an EMS officer was assigned to sort them based on their degree of injuries. The closer to the locomotive the responders got, the more serious the injured were. Additional units arrived from Lexington County, Cayce DPS, the City of Columbia FD, and many other agencies. Ambulances responded from neighboring Richland County, and at least one ambulance arrived from nearby Fort Jackson.
A Lifenet helicopter was circling overhead, and it eventually landed at the entrance to the SC State Farmer’s Market. As more rescuers arrived from other jurisdictions, some were sent down Dixiana Road where other passengers were able to walk and had gathered. The firefighters from Lexington County used shoring material and boards from our trench collapse unit to build a crossing across what they called a “small ravine” in order to get the injured and dazed across. This operation took place in the industrial yard of a business near Grace Baptist Church.
Lexington County’s Gator off-road vehicle arrived on the scene as did mass casualty buses from Lexington and Richland Counties. Eventually, the most critically injured patients were retrieved, loaded into ambulances, and taken to the trauma center at Palmetto Richland. Many others were sent to Lexington Medical Center, while some went to Palmetto Baptist Parkridge. The VA hospital reported that they could handle some people with minor injuries if needed.
The two people who died were near the front of the train, and firefighters had cut them from wreckage. Their names will not be released until Coroner Fisher has notified their families properly.
The county’s Haz-Mat team responded because the locomotive was lying on its side in a crumpled mess. An estimated 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from it before that team plugged the leaking fuel tanks. Once the leaking fuel was staunched, DHEC was notified and they are coordinating with CSX to get the spill cleaned up.
Eventually, the fire, EMS, and law enforcement leaders in the unified command center requested buses from several agencies to respond. They were used to move those who weren’t injured to nearby Pine Ridge Middle School. The American Red Cross responded to that location to begin seeing to their needs. Buses from several Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commissions centers were assisting with that effort. A senior official with Lexington County said, "We have an AMAZING group of men and woman first responders who always stand ready to answer the call. The multi-agency intergovernmental cooperation was incredible!"
At just after 9:20 a.m., most of the passengers had been released from the hospital. Several remained in the hospitals in more serious condition. The uninjured were fed at PRMS, and a representative from Amtrak was on the scene speaking with them. They were being given the choice of travelling by bus to their intended destinations or heading back to where they had begun their journeys if that was their desire. S.C.’s Governor Henry McMaster was also there reassuring the passengers that the state would do everything in its power to make them comfortable while they were here.
Right now, the NTSB is just arriving on the scene. State troopers have Pine Ridge Drive blocked at Charleston Highway (Hwy 321s) and on the other end just off Fish Hatchery Road. The public is being advised to stay out of the area. Amtrak has set up a number for people to call with questions about their loved ones. That info line is 1-800-523-9101.