The commute home turned into a nightmare for some travelling on Washington D.C’s Metrorail system this afternoon. One person is dead and at least 60 others were sent to local hospitals after smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza metro station around 3:30pm. The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation (via FOXDC):
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles says one person has died after the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station was evacuated due to heavy smoke in the station.
The station was temporarily closed for over four hours and Metro says the source of the smoke has not been determined.
Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel says the smoke was first reported on the upper level of L'Enfant Plaza at around 3:20 p.m. Monday. Tunnel fans were used to ventilate the area.
Metro Transit Police, fire department personnel and a Mass Casualty Unit were at the scene treating people for smoke inhalation and oxygen tanks were used to treat patients at a triage center set up outside nearby the station.
The woman who was killed as a result of Monday's incident was on a disabled six-car Yellow line train headed to Virginia.
Two other people were taken to the hospital in critical condition.
D.C. Fire and EMS says over 200 people were evaluated and 84 patients were transported to area hospitals with various injuries. One firefighter was also taken to the hospital with serious, but non-life threatening injuries.
The cause of the smoke is not known, though an "electrical malfunction" is being listed as the unofficial reason. The smoke has since cleared the station thanks to Metro workers activating the tunnel fans.
Nevertheless, for those stuck on metro cars outside the station, the event was absolutely terrifying, as they remained trapped in the cars that were rapidly filling with smoke (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:
Jonathan Rogers was aboard the Yellow Line train when it came to an abrupt halt as it headed to the Pentagon Station.
“You could see smoke coming through the doors,” he said. “It started to get scary pretty quick.”
He said the train operator got on the loudspeaker and urged people to remain calm. He said the plan was to back up the train to the platform of the L’Enfant station.
“We’re going to move the train backwards,” Rogers recalled the driver saying.
But after more time, it became apparent that strategy wasn’t going to work.
He said passengers remained relatively calm, but as the smoke grew thicker, some began to panic.
“People started praying,” he said. “Smoke was coming in pretty steadily. Some people were fine and some people were just hurting pretty quickly.”
He said a man standing next to him, started having breathing problems and sank to the floor.
Saleh Damiger and Sirwan Kajjo said they thought they were “going to die” when they Yellow Line train they were on Monday afternoon filled with smoke.
Damiger, 43, and Kajjo, 28, both Voice of America employees, got on a Yellow Line train headed toward the Pentagon about 3 p.m. They said the six-car train had gone about 200 feet when it stopped. The train operator said “there’s a problem, nobody move”. The men said the car quickly began to fill will smoke.
“The train stopped and all of a sudden it filled with smoke. … There was no fire. Lots of smoke only. … People were choking. People were yelling, Damiger said. “It was a lot of smoke. We couldn’t see each other. … One woman, she started to pray. .. We felt like we were almost going to die.”
Metro employees quickly got onto the train and told passengers to get low to the ground to avoid the smoke.
“They told us to get down, get down in the floor, stay low … Of course it was dark too,” Kajjo said. “The lights were gone. We couldn’t see.”
The men said they saw at least two people who appeared to be unconscious. They said they waited about an hour before firefighters arrived and began escorting them off the train and led them out of the tunnel.
They described the experienced as “harrowing”.