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Amtrak Train Derails in Florida, 55 Injured

December 18, 1991

PALATKA, Fla. (AP) _ Passengers on an Amtrak train that derailed and plowed into two houses said there was no warning before the crash. Fifty-five people were hospitalized with injuries, none of them serious.

The cause of the derailment, which happened Tuesday morning on a slight curve about three blocks from the train depot, was under investigation today by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Some witnesses said they thought the train was speeding.

″We heard a train coming mighty fast,″ said Gloria Gibbs, who runs a nearby day care center. ″I’ve never heard a train coming that fast in all the time I’ve been living here.″

Doretha Dean, who lives next to the tracks, had just left her house and walked across the street when two train cars plowed into it.

″I heard the brakes just screaming,″ she said. ″We had bought a brand- new swing set and put it in the yard two days ago. But it’s down the road now.″

The Silver Meteor was carrying about 170 passengers and a crew of 16 from New York City to Tampa.

Ten people remained hospitalized today; most of the injured were treated and released. No one was badly hurt, hospital officials said.

The train’s engine flipped on its side and crashed into the corner of one house. Two other cars of the nine-car train jackknifed into another house, demolishing it.

Passenger Daniel Hunter of Winter Park, Fla., was in the bathroom when the train went off the tracks.

″I was slammed back and forth against the walls. I felt like I was in a dryer,″ he said.

Josh McKie and Ed Overton, both of New York City, were sitting in the lounge car when it crashed through Mrs. Dean’s home.

″There was no warning. The car shook for a second, but it seemed like a half hour. I saw people bouncing around. We went right into the house,″ Overton said.

Passenger Teri Donald of Clearwater said her 3-year-old son Billy was asleep on her lap, and the force of the crash sent him into the back of another seat. ″The train fell down,″ the boy said.

Among the injured was Kitty James, wife of U.S. Rep. Craig James, R-Fla. She was treated for minor injuries and released.

Palatka is in northeast Florida, south of Jacksonville. The train left New York on Monday and had been scheduled to arrive in Tampa Tuesday afternoon.