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3 people are dead after an Amtrak train hits a truck and derails in Missouri

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An Amtrak passenger train derailed yesterday after colliding with a dump truck at a crossing in rural Missouri. Three people were killed. Dozens were injured. Frank Morris of member station KCUR has the story.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Early yesterday afternoon, Blaine Bessemer from Atlanta was speeding through the green, rolling countryside of northern Missouri. Suddenly, he says, the brakes screeched.

BLAINE BESSEMER: When he hit those brakes, we all kind of lunged forward, and then there was a loud, loud bang.

MORRIS: Like a bomb, says Bessemer - hard to describe.

BESSEMER: Well, now that I know what happened, it was like a giant piece of steel hitting a giant piece of stone.

MORRIS: The train struck a big dump truck loaded with rock. It tore the truck apart. The driver was killed. But the train rolled on about 100 yards more before all the cars slowly toppled over.

BESSEMER: And then people were falling and - people falling everywhere. And then, of course, we came to a stop pretty quickly, and then silence - silence - until everybody realized what just happened. Ugh. And here we are.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We have some baby wipes and ibuprofen and aspirin and stuff over here.

MORRIS: Bessemer's sitting in a high school gym in tiny Mendon, Mo., where first responders brought most of the 275 passengers after the wreck. Sitting a few bleachers down, with her suitcase, Vernie Williams, a nurse from Springfield, Ohio, tears up remembering the camaraderie inside the train.

VERNIE WILLIAMS: People just pitched in and helped everybody. Everybody was helping everybody. Even children were helping. It was really a - such a tragic - it - people were amazing. (Crying) And some didn't make it.

MORRIS: Two passengers died yesterday. More than 50 were injured. Ambulances and helicopters took dozens, including Williams' brother, to area hospitals. In a remote place like this, many first responders are volunteers, and Williams says the giving here has been almost overwhelming.

WILLIAMS: I mean, just everything - we'll get your luggage, we'll do this, you know? They've just - I don't know anything that they haven't done. They've been absolutely wonderful. (Crying) They really have.

MORRIS: The fatal intersection here is marked only by a simple railroad crossing sign - one without lights or bells or arms that swing down to block traffic. Chicago attorney Kristofer Riddle says such so-called unguarded crossings are inherently dangerous, especially to passenger trains.

KRISTOFER RIDDLE: Here we're talking about a train that was carrying over 200 people. And when there's a mistake that occurs, when somebody makes a poor judgment, somebody isn't paying attention, when there's human error - which there always will be - the stakes are way too high.

MORRIS: Just last weekend, another Amtrak train hit a car in the same type of unguarded crossing, this one in Northern California, killing three people in the sedan and critically injuring two others. No one in the train was hurt. The National Transportation Safety Board is reviewing both accidents. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.