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LIRR train crash victims recall ‘smoke and pandemonium’

A Long Island Rail Road train hit a bumper block at the end of the track and derailed at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, causing at least 103 injuries, none of them life-threatening, officials said on Jan. 4, 2017. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

The story was reported by Mark Morales and Ivan Pereira. It was written by Joan Gralla.

Passengers were beginning to stand and head for the exit doors as the Long Island Rail Road train entered Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal.

But instead of a routine stop at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, the train crashed — upending commuters and immediately conjuring fears of a possible terror attack. The sound of screeching metal was followed by clouds of smoke.

Daniela Roth of Valley Stream was sitting in the first car of the 7:18 a.m. train from Far Rockaway when she felt it “jump the rail.”

“We were catapulted. Anyone who was standing fell,” said Roth, district manager at a Manhattan facility services firm.

The first car was “completely lifted up into the air,” said Aaron Neufeld, 26, a paralegal from North Woodmere.

“There was shattered glass, there were some people on the platform crying. I saw some bloody faces,” said Neufeld, who was thankful for choosing the second car.

More than 100 people were hurt when Train 2817 slammed into the safety bumper at the end of Track 6, but none of the injuries were life-threatening, officials said.

Witnesses said the force of the crash caused people to ricochet off seats, walls and windows, along with their belongings. A broken rail pierced the bottom of the first car but did not hit anyone, officials said.

“I was so scared,” said first-car passenger Wendy Gerzog, 57, of Lawrence, an operations manager for a company in lower Manhattan.

“You don’t know what it was,” she said. “There was smoke all over. I don’t know where it was from.”

For Gerzog, the crash brought back terrible memories of Sept. 11, 2001. She said she was just one block from the World Trade Center when the towers were felled by hijacked planes.

On Wednesday morning, Gerzog said she was thrown to the floor and couldn’t get up “because I was hurting so bad.”

Passengers tried to get out of the car but found it impossible because of the way it was raised, she said.

“All sorts of things went through my head — terrorism, derailment — because the impact was so great,” said second-car passenger Donette Smith of Valley Stream, an auditor in her 50s.

People helped each other to their feet, she said, and as they scrambled off the train “there was smoke and pandemonium.”

Neufeld said nothing seemed amiss as the train approached Atlantic Terminal.

“People were still standing up out of their seats walking through the aisle, walking toward the doors, ready to disembark,” he said.

Then came “that boom” and “everyone who was standing went flying; bags went flying. I was sitting. Thankfully, I just got thrown into the seat in front of me.”

Afterward there was a brief “eerie quiet,” he recalled.

“Nobody was quite sure what happened until what I assume were MTA workers on the platform shouting, ‘There’s smoke, you gotta get out! You gotta get out!’ ”

Objects once seen as essential were abandoned.

“I saw some makeup,” Neufeld said. “People had left things behind on their chairs.”

Only after he safely exited the car did the full weight of what had happened begin to sink in.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said.


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