JOPLIN, Mont. - The Liberty County Sheriff's Office confirmed to FOX Television Stations that at least three people were killed after an Amtrak train derailed Saturday afternoon near Joplin, Montana.
Amtrak officials also said injuries were reported after eight out of 10 train cars went off track around 4 p.m. MST. The accident scene is about 150 miles north of Helena and about 30 miles from the border with Canada.
"We are in mourning today for the people who lost their lives due to the derailment of the Empire Builder train Saturday, near Joplin, Montana, on the BNSF Railway, as well as the many others who were injured," Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement Sunday. "We have no words that can adequately express our sorrow for those who lost a loved one or who were hurt in this horrible event. They are in our thoughts and prayers."
Authorities have yet to reveal the cause of the incident.
Amtrak officials said the train was the Empire Builder train 7/27, traveling westbound from Chicago to Seattle/Portland. They said approximately 141 passengers and 16 crew members were on board.
"Amtrak is working with the local authorities to transport injured passengers, and safely evacuate all other passengers," the company also said.
Amtrak said the train was operating on BNSF tracks.
"The cause of the incident is under investigation and BNSF will coordinate with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team," the company said in a statement to FOX Television Stations.
"The NTSB will identify the cause or causes of this accident, and Amtrak commits to taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar accident in the future," Flynn added.
The train derailed between the Havre and Shelby stops in Montana, the KXLY TV and KSEN radio reported.
The KSEN TV station reported that the train derailed about 1 mile from Joplin, Montana, a town of about 200 people.
Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.
"My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing," said Vandervest, who is from Minneapolis. "My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen."
She told the Times that the car behind hers was tilted over, the one behind that was entirely tipped over, and the three cars behind that "had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train."
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like "extreme turbulence on a plane."
Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help the passengers.
Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a local school.
"I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces," she said. "They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train."
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.
The passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.
Reports and pictures from passengers show cars tipped over off the tracks. It was a sunny fall day with dozens of people standing or sitting alongside the track, some with luggage.
The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.
"As a result of the derailment, Empire Builder trains 7/27 and 8/28 originating on Sat. Sept. 25 are cancelled between Minot, ND (MOT) and Shelby, MT (SBY)," Amtrak added. "Additionally, on Sunday, Sept. 26, westbound Empire Builder train 7 will terminate in Minneapolis, MN (MSP) and eastbound Empire Builder train 8 will originate in Minneapolis, MN (MSP). No substitute transportation is available."
Individuals with questions about their friends and family aboard this train are asked to call 800-523-9101. Amtrak customers can contact us at 800-872-7245 to obtain additional information about the status of services.
Other recent Amtrak derailments include:
— April 3, 2016: Two maintenance workers were struck and killed by an Amtrak train going more than 100 mph in Chester, Pennsylvania. The lead engine of the train derailed.
— March 14, 2016: An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas, sending five cars off the tracks and injuring at least 32 people. Investigators concluded that a cattle feed delivery truck hit the track and shifted it at least a foot before the derailment.
— Oct. 5, 2015: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.
— May 12, 2015: Amtrak Train 188 was traveling at twice the 50 mph speed limit as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.