MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. -- Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino called Tuesday "a day we never want to deal with."
Astorino, a forrmer Metro North commuter from Hawthorne, described the "horrific scene" he witnessed about 7 p.m. when he toured the wreckage of a commuter train that struck a Jeep Cherokee at the Commerce Street crossing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of North Castle also visited the fatal crash site.
Astorino said the third, electric rail had pierced the bottom of the train and cut through the entire first car, melting it beyond recognition. "It's a miracle anyone escaped the first car,'' Astorino said during a news conference.
Astorino made his comments about midnight at the County Emergency Operations Center in Hawthorne as the County Medical Examiner, joined by firefighters, continued to search the eight cars for any additional victims.
Late Tuesday, there were six confirmed dead passengers and the driver of the Jeep.
Astorino confirmed an account reported earlier by an eyewitness idling behind the Jeep. The railroad crossing gate had dropped down onto the rear of the Jeep. The female driver got out to check what happened. The motorist behind her backed up and tried to wave her back, too. But the driver got back in the car, and pulled forward unknowingly into the direct path of the train.
"It was completely charred and burned,'' Astorino said of the interior of the first car. "It must have been an absolutely horrific scene."
Screaming passengers had to jump out through emergency windows. "The flames and smoke were so heavy, everybody had to jump off'' the first car, he said. "Everything is melted inside."
The train's engineer and conductor tried to help passengers before escaping themselves. A total of 12 people were hurt, 10 of them seriously. Eleven people were taken to Westchester County Medical Center and one to Phelps Memorial Hospital.
Astorino praised fire, police and ambulance workers. "They did an amazing job."
The remaining cars, which carried a total of 650 passengers, was largely intact and did not derail. The Jeep was pushed at least 400 feet north by the train after impact about 6:30 p.m. Passengers on the 5:45 p.m. express train, which was traveling about 60 mph en route to Chappaqua when it hit the Jeep, were wandering all over the area minutes after the crash.
The county has offered Metro North and the MTA buses to shuttle commuters on the Harlem Line Wednesday and beyond, linking Pleasantville with North White Plains. He said he cannot say when things will get back to normal on that line. National Transportation Safety Board officials were dispatched from Washington, D.C. to investigate the crash site.
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