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1 killed in Iowa Amtrak accident

90 are hurt when California-bound train jumps tracks

NODAWAY, Iowa — An Amtrak train carrying 210 people from Chicago to California derailed in rural Iowa early Sunday, killing one passenger, injuring about 90 others and leaving a zigzagging trail of silver cars along a muddy embankment.

At least seven of the injured passengers were hospitalized, and dozens of others were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals and released.

The cause of the crash about 70 miles southwest of Des Moines was unknown.

Terry Williams, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators were gathering details on the scene.

The California Zephyr's two locomotives and 15 cars were carrying 195 passengers and 15 crew members, Amtrak spokeswoman Debra Hare said. Amtrak officials did not immediately release a list of passengers.

Charlie Romstad of Colorado Springs, Colo., said in a telephone call to The Associated Press that the victim was his mother, Stella Riehl, 69, also of Colorado Springs.

Romstad, 46, said his mother came to Des Moines last week because her brother, who was living in a Des Moines nursing home, had died.

"We picked up the ashes on Saturday. She was taking them back to Colorado Springs when the accident happened," Romstad said.

Amtrak could not immediately confirm the victim's identity.

The scene of the wreckage stretched about one-fourth of a mile. Workers began picking up debris near the tipped-over cars, some of which formed a V-shape along the tracks.

"I think everybody was amazed that there weren't more fatalities and injuries," said Nodaway Fire Chief Larry Pond.

Aerial photographs showed two silver cars lying across the railroad, with an overturned car lying parallel to the track in a muddy bank. Other cars teetered along the track near the snow-covered ground.

Of the seven passengers hospitalized, at least two were listed in serious condition.

Shaheda Ula, 47, of Laramie, Wyo., was being treated for a broken hip at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "It just shook and shook again, and everybody screamed," she said from her hospital bed. "I don't remember anything after that."

Her husband, Sadrul, was not injured, nor was her daughter, 14-year-old Nafisa.

The train was headed from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., when the derailment occurred just before midnight. Passenger Joseph Conn of Hobart, Ind., said one of the front train cars overturned and another was dangling from a 20-foot-high embankment.

"One of the coach cars went off to the left, and it's sitting basically on its roof. Its wheels are sticking up into the air. They carried a number of people out of that one," said Conn, who was sitting near the back of the train.

"There was maybe more than 100 feet of shredded ties, shredded rails, torn-up ballast on the roadway, just a torn-up mess," Conn said.

Jim Anderson, who lives off a winding gravel road less than a mile from the crash site, said he was in bed when the derailment startled him and his dog.

"I thought my furnace blowed up. I heard a bunch of grinding and then boom," he said. "That dog of mine jumped out of bed and started growling at the window."

Passenger Mary Clare Maloney, 16, of Des Moines, said she was on the top deck of a car playing cards when the derailment happened.

"The first thing was where the lights flickered and went out," she said. "Then there was bump and that was not a big deal, but we started going faster into the ditch."

She said she waited more than an hour in the top level of the car to be rescued. Her train car was tipped at a 45-degree angle, so she walked on the wall and not the floor. "That was kind of weird and dizzying," she said.

Beth Giudcessi, a classmate of Maloney's, was traveling to Colorado with her and seven other students for a ski vacation.

"There was a sudden push, just a sharp turn to the right, and we were thrown against the wall. It happened very quickly," Giudcessi said.

Bryan Kannas, emergency management coordinator for the Adams County Sheriff's department, said the derailment happened on a straightaway located between the communities of Brooks and Nodaway. That section of track is owned and maintained by Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad.

Steve Forsberg, a spokesman for Burlington Northern, did not know whether other train derailments had occurred along the stretch of tracks.

"I'm not sure of the history of this section of track, but we'll be digging into this," Forsberg said.

Passengers were taken to a community center in Nodaway where they were served breakfast.

"They were kind of, like you'd think, shook up over it," Nodaway Mayor Robert Pafford said. "After they settled down a little bit, they realized they had sores here and there and they were just bumps and bruises."

Uninjured passengers were then taken by bus to Omaha. Amtrak was arranging for shelter and alternate transportation. Amtrak has set up a toll-free number for relatives at 1-800-523-9101.

Hours after the derailment, Ben Mrugale held a green plastic hat with the signatures of several passengers. Over cocktails, Mrugale had celebrated St. Patrick's Day with them and was relieved to learn that they were OK.

"I checked today over here at the fire station, and everybody that signed the hat is still here," Mrugale said. "So the luck of the Irish is still with us."