Long Islanders aboard the Amtrak train that jumped its rails Tuesday night described bodies and luggage tossed about the speeding locomotive, people screaming in the chaos and victims helping each other escape from the wreckage.
Theresa Imperato of Huntington Station said she and her daughter Maggie, 12, were on the train returning from a trip to Washington, where they spoke with Long Island's congressional delegation about Lou Gehrig's disease.
But shortly after pulling out of the station in Philadelphia, things went haywire, she said.
"All of a sudden, we had this rocking hard to the left, hard to the right," said Imperato, a nurse coordinator for the ALS Association Greater New York Chapter. "I knew in my gut that we were going to go over with this rocking. It seemed like the speed increased with every rock."
Investigators said the Manhattan-bound train was traveling about 106 mph when it derailed shortly before 9:30 p.m. while carrying 238 passengers and five crew members. Seven died and at least 200 were injured.
Upon impact, people, purses, phones were tossed about, Imperato said. After the train came to rest, she said, people screamed and scrambled to get out, climbing over strewn luggage, dislodged seats and other passengers.
She said she ended up pressed against a window, landing on top of another woman. Her daughter was nearby, wedged into the overhead luggage compartment.
"It was terrifying, to say the least," said Maggie Imperato, a seventh-grader at the J. Taylor Finley Middle School.
Maggie said she was able to escape from the train car after the crash, although her mother remained trapped inside for a short time.
The girl began helping passengers escape the car, which made her feel better during the ordeal.
"I just remembered that my mom was in there and we were going to be OK," she said. "Helping people made me feel calmer than worrying about her."
Neither mother nor daughter suffered serious injury, Imperato said.
Passenger Janna D'Ambrisi, 26, of Lloyd Harbor, told News 12 Long Island she thought the train was "going too fast around the curve" before she felt a jolt.
"You could definitely feel that we derailed," said D'Ambrisi, who said she was not seriously injured. "The train started to tilt that way. I wasn't sure how far we were going to tip over."
D'Ambrisi said seats were dislodged and spilled into the aisle. The train began filling with smoke, leaving passengers coughing, she said.
James Greenman of Summit, New Jersey, said his wife, Cathy, was seriously injured when she ended up under a group of people during the crash.
"They were riding . . . and all of a sudden, the train was going very fast and she went flying off her seat, and then there was chaos," Greenman said, recalling what his wife told him. "It flipped over, people were on top of her. A door fell on top of her. It was a struggle to get out."
Greenman, a doctor of infectious diseases, said his wife is severely hurt, but he's grateful she is alive.
With Gary Dymski
and William Murphy