AMAGASAKI, Hyogo Pref. – Hirokazu Mannami, a 30-year-old university lecturer, described how he felt as his train on the JR Fukuchiyama Line sped along toward Amagasaki Station on Monday morning.
The seven-car train had just left Itami Station 90 seconds behind schedule after the driver overran the stop point. Judging from the speed, Mannami thought he was trying to make up for lost time.
“After leaving Itami Station, the train started moving really fast,” he said. “I thought there was something wrong.”
Just as he tightened his grip on a hand strap, there was a sudden squeak, and he felt the train’s wheels skid.
As the noise became louder, the train swayed badly sideways.
Then came the violent impact, which sent his body shooting forward to land on other passengers collapsed in the car.
Mannami was one of the lucky ones.
The toll from the crash of the seven-car train into a nine-story apartment building was 53 dead and more than 400 injured as of Monday evening.
Michi Yamashita, a 14-year-old schoolgirl whose left wrist was broken in the crash, said the accident cracked the body of her car, allowing her and other passengers to wrench it open further and escape.
“Now I’m afraid of getting on a train,” she said.
Keisuke Mukai, a 21-year-old university student who was in the fourth car, also managed to get out after the derailment and witnessed something he had never seen before: four derailed cars, with the wreckage of the lead car squashed against an apartment building next to the tracks.
Mukai heard people calling out for help. Inside the car, passengers who had been seated were sprawled on the floor, some of them bleeding as shards of broken glass bit into their bodies.
A 27-year-old female company worker from Kobe who was also aboard the fourth car joined others in rescuing some of the seriously injured people.
“I could not think of anything for a while,” she said, her sweater smeared with blood. “I cried out for help, but nobody came.”
The train hit so hard that the central part of the first car was flattened by its impact with the first floor of the apartment building.
“I was relaxing in my room when I suddenly heard a loud noise that sounded like an explosion,” said a 62-year-old woman who lives on the sixth floor of the nine-story building. “My unit is away from the northwestern corner (where the train hit), so I did not feel the impact. At first I thought it was a gas explosion.”
She rushed down the stairs to find a grisly accident scene.
“One injured passenger after another was being carried out of the smashed train cars, and people bleeding from their heads and legs were lying on the ground as they waited for ambulances,” she said.
Another resident, a 48-year-old housewife, said one of the derailed cars hit “right beneath the veranda” of her apartment unit.
“There was a strong oily smell in the air, which was so sickening that I couldn’t keep my windows open,” she said.
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