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Breaking News

One Fatality Reported in Train Derailment

Aired March 18, 2001 - 9:07 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Returning to our top story, the derailment of Amtrak's California Zephyr, 12:40 a.m. Eastern time, 11:40 local time, rescue crews have gotten all the passengers out of the scenes. Many of them injured. At least 90 injured. One fatality reported. And now the investigation begins.

Joining us on the line with the latest is the Adams County Sheriff, Merlin Dixon, who is near the town of Corning where the train derailment occurred overnight. Sheriff, just bring us up to date on what is going on at the scene right now.

SHERIFF MERLIN DIXON, ADAMS COUNTY: Well, right now, they're moving in equipment and bringing them to northern Santa Fe. Railroads are starting to move in -- derailment cleanup equipment and waiting for the NTSB to be -- get down there and conduct an investigation.

O'BRIEN: Sir, do you have any indication as to when those federal investigators will be on scene?

DIXON: Well, they though they would hit Des Moines Airport about 9 AM and then just be coming on down here and -- from there, I guess.

O'BRIEN: Sheriff, we've had some conflicting information on the number of cars that left the track. What are the numbers, as you understand them?

DIXON: Well, I'm thinking it's probably about 10 cars.

O'BRIEN: About 10 cars...

DIXON: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: ... all right. And did you get a chance to get out to the scene? And could you...

DIXON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: ... describe it for us?

DIXON: Yes, I was at east end, which will be the rear end of train.

O'BRIEN: Yeah. Just describe what you saw. DIXON: Well, there -- the rear three cars were still on the rails. And I could see four cars -- three cars ahead of those that were derailed. One was off on the north side. One was sitting crossways across the track and one was in the south ditch.

O'BRIEN: And describe the scene, was there a bit of pandemonium on the scene? What was the reaction of...

DIXON: Not really. The passengers seemed to be keeping pretty calm and looking after one another, trying to account for traveling companions and stuff like that. They pretty well had things sorted out by the time we got there.

O'BRIEN: Set the scene for us just as far as the terrain and the topography there. It's kind of a flat stretch, straight track -- farmland, I presume?

DIXON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right. And did that make it difficult for you to engage in a rescue effort?

DIXON: Yeah. We've had a lot of snowfall and warm weather and it's kind of muddy. And most of the road of course, was the maintenance road along the railroad tracks. We -- about a mile-and-a- half was the closest of any county road that we could get to on it. And...

O'BRIEN: Did you see -- sheriff, I apologize for interrupting. Do you see any indication one way or another as to what might have caused this train to leave the tracks?

DIXON: No. No, I'm not a real expert or anything. And there were of course, broken rails laying around from the derailment. And I don't -- I wouldn't even venture a guess.

O'BRIEN: All right. But just to be clear here, you said there's no roads nearby. Can we safely assume there are crossings nearby there that might have precipitated some kind of collision?

DIXON: None immediately close there, no.

O'BRIEN: All right. And as far as the response goes, have you gotten adequate help from surrounding counties? I presume you have...

DIXON: Oh, Lord, yes. Yes. A great response from surrounding agencies, law enforcement, fire departments, rescue units -- they all responded in a timely fashion and did a great job.

O'BRIEN: Now there's Amtrak trains go through there, as I understand it, at a fairly good clip, at least 80 miles an hour. Have you ever had a problem before with any of the Amtrak trains as they pass through the area?

DIXON: No. I've got to put you on hold. We got a 911 call coming through. O'BRIEN: OK. Sheriff Merlin Dixon. We'll leave it at that. Obviously, a busy man and we do appreciate his time on what is obviously a very busy morning there in Adams County, Iowa as they continue the efforts to find out what happened to the California Zephyr leaving the tracks 12:40 a.m. Eastern time, 11:40 local.

He said perhaps six to 10 cars having left the tracks. At least 90 injuries reported. One fatality. Some of those injuries are of a serious nature. We know of at least one woman in critical condition, undergoing surgery as we speak. We'll keep you updated.

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