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Little Warning in German Rail Crash

June 4, 1998

ESCHEDE, Germany (AP) _ Commuters taking the Inter-City Express train along the Munich-to-Hamburg line are normally assured of a smooth ride in business class-size reclining seats.

The train _ which travels up to 175 mph _ feels motionless, allowing passengers to tap out reports on laptops, sip coffee or doze undisturbed during their trip.

That’s why passengers on Germany’s fastest train were so alarmed Wednesday by the rattling.

``I had the feeling that maybe something was lying on the tracks,″ Wolf-Ruediger Schliebener, a passenger from a rear car, told SAT 1 TV.

``People looked at each other shocked, and then it was as if: `That’s over now.‴ But then the rattling ``started up again,″ he said.

A moment later, the train’s lead locomotive somehow broke loose and car after car jumped off the track, crumpling into each other and slamming into a bridge, bringing it down on top of the wreckage.

``I held on and ducked down because you had the feeling you’d be thrown through the air,″ Schliebener said. ``Thank God, it came to a standstill.″

Then he heard the screaming.

Several passenger cars had wedged together, some sticking up at bizarre angles and others buried under the overpass.

The train was traveling at 125 mph when it crashed. Authorities said at least 100 people died; rescuers have pulled out more than 70 bodies.

Dazed survivors staggered with bloodied hands toward residents who came running out of houses just 150 feet away. Splintered glass covered the ground.

Within an hour the nearby small, red-brick town of Eschede _ about 35 miles north of Hanover _ was swarming with fire trucks, rescue workers and volunteers.

Hannelore Domkewitz saw the train speed past from her kitchen window where she stood peeling potatoes. She had just a moment to reflect that it was moving faster than usual.

``Then there was a loud boom, a dust cloud, and then silence,″ Domkewitz said.

The silence didn’t last long. There were screams from the tracks, about 300 feet away.

Domkewitz ran to get blankets and bed sheets to cover the injured and dead. ``But there were also survivors who went by with their luggage. They were all in shock,″ Domkewitz said, her voice breaking.

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