A CSX train hauling coal derailed and fell from a bridge in Ellicott City outside Baltimore, killing two young women who were on the tracks and crushing vehicles in a parking lot, authorities said.
Twenty-one of the train's 80 cars flipped over around midnight Monday, Howard County officials said. Some of the train cars crushed parked vehicles in a nearby county-owned lot, County Executive Ken Ulman said. Cranes were brought in Tuesday morning to remove train cars from the vehicles so they can be searched for other potential victims.
"Many of those train cars fell onto automobiles, literally fell onto automobiles with the coal," said Ulman. "So you have massive piles of coal and heavy train cars on top of automobiles."
The two people who were killed were on the rail bridge and were not railroad employees. The victims' identities were not immediately released, but a spokesman for CSX described them as "young women."
Two train operators were not harmed, officials said.
On Tuesday morning, residents were surveying the damage and checking to see if their cars, or their friends' cars, had been damaged in the accident. Several gray train cars were still on the bridge while others could be seen derailed farther down the rail line. A number of cars could be seen derailed in a wooded area of train track that runs along the Patapsco River.
Benjamin Noppenberger lives downtown and said he was getting ready for bed when he heard the derailment. He said he and his wife thought it sounded like what could be gunshots and waited about 10 minutes to go outside to see what happened. At the scene, he said: "We could see all the cars that fell over. I just saw catastrophe."
Jill Farrell, a 35-year-old assistant professor who lives across the street from the tracks, said she heard what sounded liked brakes being slammed and then a huge crash.
"It actually sounded like trains went off the tracks, and then silence," she said.
Farrell said the tracks are easily accessible and in an area where there are several bars. The hilly, picturesque downtown area also includes gift and antique shops in converted old buildings.
CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said that the train was traveling from Grafton, W.Va., to Baltimore.
It's unclear what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
Streets in the area were closed early Tuesday.