By BEN NUCKOLS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Passengers on a subway train that got stuck in a tunnel and filled with deadly smoke in the nation’s capital were still asking if help would come 27 minutes after the emergency was first reported, the city revealed Thursday as passengers prepared to sue and raised money for a funeral.
One woman died and more than 80 were sickened when some sort of electrical malfunction on the tracks stopped the train. It got stuck just 800 feet south of the busy L’Enfant Plaza station in downtown Washington as it traveled toward Virginia.
A preliminary timeline released by the city administrator, Rashad Young, confirmed that passengers waited more than a half-hour for help.
It also shows that an ambulance didn’t carry the dying woman to a hospital until more than an hour after the smoke was reported. It doesn’t explain the delays, but notes that another ambulance canceled its trip to the scene when it was just a block away.
The timeline also shows that firefighters were at the station for 13 minutes before Metro officials confirmed people were trapped and that the electrified third rail had been shut down, reducing the risk of an orderly evacuation.
“Those people should not have been trapped like rats in a subway car filling with smoke,” said attorney Kim Brooks-Rodney, announcing a lawsuit that will accuse the Metro transit agency of negligent maintenance, inspection and response.
“Something broke down and we’re going to find out what it is,” she said.
One of the two passengers she represents, Malbert Rich, 53, said he composed final text messages to his mother and children, thinking he might not survive.
“I just didn’t see any way that we were going to get out of there because the smoke was encapsulating and all you could see out the window was darkness,” Rich said.
Other passengers cried, cursed and prayed. Some shared water, and then a bottle of wine as they waited, he said.
The train’s operator communicated with passengers often, first telling them the problems were temporary and that the train would be moving back into the station. Every three or four minutes he would tell people to stay put, Rich said.
“After a while it became a joke,” he said. Every so often the train would “jump a little bit,” but it never moved much.
The official timeline says the first report of trouble came at 3:18 p.m. on Monday, when a 911 caller reported smoke emerging from a tunnel.
Several 911 calls followed as train cars filled with smoke and some passengers began to panic.
By 3:45 p.m., two people were still calling from the train to ask if help was on the way.
And it was another 24 minutes after that, at 4:09 p.m., that officials reported performing CPR on a passenger who later died. Passengers have said they tried to revive her on the train before emergency responders got there. She wasn’t taken to a hospital until 4:25 p.m. — more than an hour after the smoke was spotted.
Many passengers finally decided to evacuate on their own, against the operator’s instructions. Some reached the station just when emergency responders were leaving the platform and entering the tunnel.
“We were not given any information that police or fire were en route, or nearby,” said Luis Clemens, 47, a National Public Radio editor who left the train. “All we got was, `Stay in place. Yes, I know there’s smoke. Don’t leave.’ And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you’re sitting there, watching, over some period, watching the subway cars fill up with smoke.”
Hundreds answered an online fundraiser to cover $10,000 in funeral costs for the passenger who died, Carol Glover of Alexandria, Virginia. The donations on gofundme.com totaled more than $14,000 by Thursday afternoon.
Associated Press Writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this story. Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter.
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