A Savannah resident was among the two Amtrak employees who were killed in an early morning train wreck in South Carolina that also injured dozens of passengers.
Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, the train engineer, and Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla., the conductor, died in the crash, according to Lexington County, S.C., Coroner Margaret Fisher. Both were in the lead car when their train collided with a CSX freight train at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, S.C.
“I have spoken with both of the families and as you can imagine they are very, very distraught,” Fisher told reporters in an emotional news conference Sunday. “We are working with them to make sure they are taken care of. Being out of state and having a deceased loved on in another state is very difficult.”
Fisher described the scene at the crash site as chaotic.
“It was a tough scene this morning,” she said. “As you can imagine, there were a lot of people out and about, walking. Everybody is wondering what is going on.”
“It was chaotic for a little while, but Lexington County did an amazing job, considering the circumstances. We should have had a lot more causalities, but we didn’t.”
Meanwhile, dozens of passengers who survived the crash are streaming into a middle school gymnasium in West Columbia for food and shelter, according to the Red Cross.
Authorities have opened Pine Ridge Middle School in West Columbia to feed and shelter the passengers. A local restaurant is feeding them eggs, grits and sausages. About 30 volunteers are assisting.
“They seem to be in fairly good spirits,” said Cuthbert Langley, a Red Cross spokesman for the South Carolina region. “They are, of course, on their cell phones communicating with their loved ones. But they seem to be doing OK, given the circumstances.”
Twenty-seven of the passengers suffered minor injuries and were brought to Lexington Medical Center. All but two were discharged by 11 a.m., said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson.
Amtrak said it is cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation of the crash.
“We are deeply saddened to report the death of two of our employees in this morning’s derailment in Cayce, South Carolina,” Amtrak said in a prepared statement. “Additionally, affected customers reporting injuries have been transported to local hospitals.”
People with questions about passengers who were on the train may contact Amtrak at 800-523-9101.
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