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1 day ago · by · 0 comments

CDC Briefing On Nuclear Attack Preparedness

 

 

 

 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has scheduled a briefing for January 16th, 2018 , to outline how the U.S. public should prepare for the event of a nuclear war. The scheduled briefing comes as tensions between the United States and North Korea continue to rise.  A notice on the CDC’s website states “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps.  Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”

The session will include information on what public health programs are doing at the federal, state, and local level to prepare for a nuclear detonation, according to the announcement. Additional information will cover how planning for a nuclear detonation is similar to and different from other emergency responses.  The website already has information on What to Do During a Radiation Emergency which lists a nuclear power plant accident, a nuclear explosion or a dirty bomb are examples of radiation emergencies.

While officials stress an attack remains unlikely, Hawaii’s emergency management authorities have released guidelines on what to do, while a monthly statewide siren test was resurrected on Dec. 1, 2017.  Over the weekend, Hawaii residents were panicked for a short time from an emergency alert notification sent out on Saturday claiming a ballistic missile threat was inbound to Hawaii.  The alert turned out to be a false alarm according to state leaders and emergency officials, who blamed it on an employee who “pushed the wrong button.”

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the emergency alert read.  The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency quickly updated the alert to: “THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE STATE OF HAWAII. REPEAT. FALSE ALARM, “ but many residents didn’t get the update for 15 to 30 minutes as many factors such as cell tower and a person’s location came in to play.

Many are hopeful for a thawing of relations Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s Day address that he wanted his country to compete in the Olympics. His statement was seen as an olive branch after a tense year of aggression.  Recently, officials from North Korea and South Korea met in the Demilitarized Zone for the first high-level talks in more than two years.  During the meeting, North Korea said it would send a delegation of athletes, officials and cheerleaders to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February. The two countries will also reinstate a military hotline that was suspended for nearly two years.

 

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4 days ago · by · 0 comments

Baltimore Classrooms Kept Open Despite Frigid Temps

 

 

 

 

Baltimore parents, teachers and students are protesting frigid conditions at public schools, with schoolchildren left shivering in classrooms and temperatures barely rising above freezing. Photos shared widely on social media show children bundled in winter parkas seated on a classroom floor; a high school classroom and a gymnasium left badly damaged after they were flooded by burst pipes; and a thermometer measuring one classroom’s temperature at 42 degrees.

In a letter sent to families, students and staff members on January 2nd, they were told that workers had visited the buildings over the winter break to try to ensure they were ready and that principals are combining classes if one room is colder than another.  School uniform rules had been lifted so students could choose warmer outfits.

On January 3rd, the Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English sent a letter to Sonja Brookins Santelises, the chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools.  The letter was also published in The Baltimore Sun.  The letter condemned the conditions as “unfair” and “inhumane” and called on officials to close schools for the rest of the week.  According to the letter, students and teachers have endured dangerously low temperatures in buildings that are struggling to operate with bursting boilers and drafty windows.  Ms. English wrote “I implore that you close schools in the District until your facilities crew has had time to properly assess and fix the heating issues within the affected schools in Baltimore City.

That day, as temperatures dipped in the low 20’s, four schools were closed and three released their students early because of the heating issues in their buildings. As blizzard conditions raged along the East Coast on January 4th, the closings extended to all Baltimore city schools, as well as those in other major cities including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

After receiving the letter, Santelises published a Facebook Live presentation where she said that as some schools are fixed, others might encounter problems elsewhere in the district, making a request to shut down all the schools an “overly simplistic” measure.  “I don’t knee-jerk close anything down just because I have one perspective,” she said.  She said that other factors went into the decision to keep schools open despite frigid classroom temps such as considering the impact on students’ access to hot school meals and adult supervision while parents work.  Dr. Santelises added “About 60 schools have been affected over the winter break and this week by heating problems, representing about one-third of the schools in the system.  Maintenance workers have been sent to schools as the district gets complaints about them and as some fixes are made at some schools, problems arise at others as workers try to keep ahead of the problems.  “It is a juggle, and I don’t think we get it perfect every time,” she added.

State Senator Bill Ferguson—a former Baltimore public school teacher—said the city’s schools requested funds for heating and air conditioning but were denied due to “fiscal constraints.” Ferguson blasted Republican Governor Bill Hogan on twitter- writing, “Governor Hogan suggests enough money has gone to Baltimore City, additional resources not needed.”

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5 days ago · by · 0 comments

Seventy Arrested At Georgia House Party For Less Than Oz of Marijuana

 

 

Cartersville, Georgia police are facing criticism after arresting 70 people at a house party in an Atlanta suburb after no one would claim ownership of a stash of marijuana that totaled less than an ounce. Partygoers say police entered the home without permission or a warrant, and arrested everyone inside when they couldn’t determine the owner of the less than an ounce of marijuana they seized.

Cartersville police responded to a “shots fired” call around 2:18 AM on New Year’s Eve at the Morgan Square apartments on Cain Drive. Someone from the apartment complex called 911 to report the noise from the party, drawing police to the site of the party, just blocks from the apartment complex. Partygoers allege that the sounds were fireworks, not gunfire and that while police were checking things out-they smelled marijuana in the front yard. They say police didn’t have a warrant at that point but they said two officers entered the home anyway.

Deja Heard had rented the home where the party was held through Air BnB to celebrate her 21st birthday by having a “Christmas Lingerie Party”. Flyers for the party said “Party Alert. East Atlanta Santa’s 21st Sexy Christmas Lingerie Pajama Party” and advertised a cover for drinks, Jell-O shots, “drunk/strip Twister” and beer pong.

Those arrested ranged in age from 15 to 31 years old and some remained in jail 2 days after the arrest- causing them to lose their jobs. Jail records showed that 63 of the 70 arrestees had all been processed with a single count of marijuana possession under one ounce. Some parents of those arrested have cried foul at the arrests, claiming that if the incident happened in Atlanta, the attendees would’ve walked away with a $75 ticket.

Several of those arrested, now called “the Cartersville 70” on social media, have given interviews to local media outlets saying they fear they will have a criminal record. Austen Davis told a reporter “I was told we were just being detained; one of the officers said we’re putting you in a van to keep y’all warm.” Others say they were verbally abused during their arrest. Along with the attorneys representing the young people arrested, the NAACP is now involved.

The Georgia chapter of the NAACP said most of the drug charges should be dropped because officers didn’t have the right to search the home. “We believe, based on what we know from the police report and independent witnesses and video, that there was a violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights,” The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of property. The NAACP contends that the house and those attending the party were unlawfully searched and that citations could have been issued, rather than arresting the party-goers.

In a news release, police said they obtained a warrant and found two stolen guns, marijuana individually packaged and several smoking devices throughout most of the first-floor rooms. Individually packaged suspected cocaine and cocaine-related paraphernalia were also located upon initial contact with multiple subjects, the release said. According to Cartersville Police Lt. M.E. Betttikofer, the police investigation is presently ongoing.

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6 days ago · by · 0 comments

Denver Gunmen Kills One, Wounds Six

 

 

 

 

A gunman in Denver, Colorado used a rifle to fire at least 100 rounds in an “ambush-style attack” at police who were responding to a disturbance. The suspect, Iraq veteran Matthew Riehl, shot and killed Sheriff Deputy Zackari Parrish, 29, and injured four other officers and two civilians.  The gunman used a rifle and fired at least 100 rounds. The gunman, a 37-year-old former soldier and lawyer, was killed in a shootout with SWAT officers.

Douglas County Deputies were called to the apartment in the Copper Canyon Apartment Complex at 3 a.m. on a report of a verbal disturbance between two males.  Riehl’s roommate told the four officers that arrived that the suspect was acting bizarre and might be having a mental breakdown.   Deputies cleared the scene at 3:40 a.m. and left because no crime had been committed.  Officers were called back to the scene at 5:14 a.m. on a domestic disturbance call and all four officers were there by 5:35 a.m.  Riehl’s roommate returned to the apartment, gave deputies a key and permission to enter the apartment but left before the gunman opened fire at 5:56 a.m.

After the officers entered the suspect’s apartment, they found that he had barricaded himself inside a bedroom.  The officers talked with Riehl through the door and determined it to be a mental health call.  In the officers body cam footage Parrish is heard saying “It’s deputy Parrish, DougCo Sheriff’s Office.” “Hey, Matt, it’s Zack. Yes we can help you. I’m with the sheriff’s office. Right here man. We can talk out here. I just want to make sure you’re OK.”  Deputies talked to Riehl and tried to help him until 5:35 a.m.  Parrish is then heard  “He’s going through a manic episode,” “We’re going to take him for an M1.”  M1 stands for a mental health hold.

Between 5:35 a.m. and 5:57 a.m. deputies were developing a plan to get medical and mental health aid to Riehl, until he opened fire.  All the officers were wearing bulletproof vests but were struck in unprotected parts of their bodies.  During a news conference, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said all four officers went down within seconds of each other.  Deputy Zackari Parrish was shot several times and the wounded officers tried to pull him out but were unable to because of their injuries.  The wounded deputies then crawled away while other officers responded to the shots fired call.

SWAT team members entered the apartment at 7:30 a.m. and exchanged gunfire with the gunman.  The gunman was killed and another officer was wounded by the suspect.   Riehl’s roommate was not injured and has been cooperating with investigators.  The injured deputies are Michael Doyle, 28; Taylor Davis, 30; and Jeff Pelle, 32. Castle Rock police officer Thomas O’Donnell, 41, was also wounded. All were listed in stable condition at area hospitals.  Two people in adjacent apartments were also wounded, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

During the press conference, Sheriff Spurlock said Riehl was an Iraq war veteran that at one time worked as a lawyer in Rawlins, Wyoming.  He had no criminal history but was well known to law enforcement.   Spurlock said Riehl has posted a number of anti-law-enforcement videos on YouTube and other social media.   Deputy Parrish, who had been a deputy for about 7 months, was rushed to the Littleton hospital but he had suffered mortal wounds.  A motorcade of officers from various police agencies accompanied the fallen officer from the hospital to the coroner’s office.  Parrish is survived by a wife and two young daughters.

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2 weeks ago · by · 0 comments

North Korea Calls New Sanctions An Act of War

 

 

North Korea has called the most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions “an act of war” and warns that the US and other nations which supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price.  The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted US-drafted sanctions against North Korea in response to their last intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test which experts have said are the most advanced yet.  The new sanctions will strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling.  Then, just days after the new sanctions were imposed; the United States imposed two additional sanctions on two North Korean officials.  The new U.S. Treasury sanctions will freeze all U.S. assets of two North Korean officials accused of being behind the missile program.

North Korea’s foreign ministry lashed out against the latest sanctions, saying the US is intimidated by the nation’s nuclear power.  “The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country,” the statement said.  North Korea warned that if the United States “wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy” toward North Korea.  “We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” the statement said.

Korea foreign ministry described the new resolution as a “complete economic blockade” and threatened nations that helped pass it. “Those countries that raised their hands in favor of this ‘sanctions resolution’ shall be held completely responsible for all the consequences to be caused by the ‘resolution’ and we will make sure for ever and ever that they pay heavy price for what they have done,” the statement said.

The sanctions cut exports of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products by a total of 89%. It also bans the export of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to North Korea, and requires countries currently hosting North Korean migrant workers to repatriate them within 24 months.  According to the UN, around 100,000 North Koreans work overseas and most of their wages are sent back home, bringing an estimated $500 million each year for Kim Jong Un’s regime.  The new UN resolution also prohibits countries from smuggling North Korean coal and other prohibited commodities by sea and authorizes member states to inspect, seize and impound any vessels in their territorial waters found to be transporting prohibited items.  This month, Washington asked the UN to ban 10 ships from entering ports across the world over alleged dealings with North Korea.

Three months ago, the UN passed a US-drafted resolution that at the time was described by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as “by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea.”  The previous measures, adopted in September, had been designed to accomplish six major goals: cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities.

 

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2 weeks ago · by · 0 comments

Devastating Bronx Fire Kills 12

 

 

 

Twelve people were killed and four critically injured, after a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City.  Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover.  The fast moving fire sent residents running into the freezing temperatures for safety just before 7pm on Thursday.

The fire was started by a three year old boy who had been playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment.  The boy’s screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted.  The mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, leaving the apartment door open.  That fatal mistake allowed the fire to spread quickly through the 5 story building-trapping families on the floors above.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the apartment’s stairway acted “like a chimney” as the fire burst from the apartment, feeding the flames and allowing them to spread throughout the building.  The smoke from the fire filled the stairway and halls, quickly cutting off visibility to those trapped inside.  The 26-unit apartment building was required to have self-closing doors, which swing shut on their own to keep fires from spreading, city Housing Preservation and Development Department spokesman Matthew Creegan said.  Investigators will look at whether the door to the apartment was defective or if an obstruction prevented it from closing, he said.

Killed in the blaze were Maria Batiz, 58; her 8 -month-old grand-daughter Amora Batiz; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor; Hannah Donkor, 17; Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7 and Emmanuel Mensah, 28.  Mensah, has been hailed a hero for heading back into the fire to save others.  Private Mensah, had been home from Army duty for the holiday after finishing basic training in Georgia.   His father said he had been awarded a medal for marksmanship and was planning to join the military police.  He was scheduled to head to Virginia and from there to battlefields unknown.  His sister wept as she said he always put others before himself.

Mensah, lived in Apartment 11, on the 3rd floor with a friend of his father’s who was at home with his wife and four children when the fire broke out.  After Mensah got that family to safety, he returned and pulled out four more people.  He was last seen heading back into the fire to help others.  When he couldn’t be found, family members said they were hoping he was among those injured in the fire.  His remains were found in Apartment 15 on the 4th floor.

One family, the Stewarts, lost four family members during the deadly blaze.  Karen Stewart-Francis, Kylie Francis, Charmela Francis, and their cousin Shawntay Young were killed.  In all, 13 family members — cousins, uncles, aunts – all lived in the building after emigrating from Jamaica between 1980-2004 and deciding to stay close.  Another family member, Holt Francis, emerged alive from the deadly mix of smoke and flames, but was put into a medically induced coma with a dire prognosis.  Family members say he’s a fighter and the family wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. His wife Karen was killed in the blaze.

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2 weeks ago · by · 0 comments

Two Men Charged In Troy NY Quadruple Murders

 

 

 

 

Two men have been arrested in the grisly murders of a same-sex couple and two children in Troy, New York.  James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24 have been charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder.  The victims were 36-year-old Shanta Myers, her partner 22-year-old Brandi Mell and Myers’ two children, Jeremiah, 11, and Shanise, five.  Myers’ oldest son, 15-year-old Isaiah, was not home at the time of the murders.

Their bodies were discovered in their basement apartment around noon on Dec. 26th by the property manager while doing a well-being check.  According to family members, the Myers family moved in with Brandi Mells following an eviction earlier this year but because of apartment’s small size, Isaiah stayed with a relative.

Mells’ cousin, Sharonda Bennett said she last spoke to Brandi on Dec. 19 to discussed holiday plans  The couple were deciding between celebrating in Troy or in Paterson, New Jersey, where the Mells family lives, she said.  She said that the couple became unreachable around 11 p.m. on Dec. 21st, after Mell’s mother couldn’t reach her by phone and no one answered at the apartment.   Bennett said her calls to Brandi went straight to voicemail and she assumed maybe they had decided to spend Christmas in New Jersey.

Two days later, Isaiah stopped by to deliver Christmas presents to his siblings but no one answered the door, which was locked.   He left for a basketball tournament, thinking they’d stepped out for a bit.  After still not being able to reach them the day after Christmas, Mells’ mom called the property manager and asked the manager to see if her daughter was home.  The manager found the bodies and immediately called cops.

The motives of these murders have not been revealed but Troy Police Chief James Tedesco said these victims were targeted and confirmed that the victims were killed late in the evening of Dec 21st.  He called the slayings the worst “savagery” he’d ever seen in his 42-year career.  Police did not detail how they caught the suspects, and a family member of one of the victims said that she had never heard of the men and knew no reason why the women and children would be targeted.

Police have said Justin Mann was “acquainted” with Brandi Mells.  He said that both suspects have a criminal history and that Justin Mann was on parole.   Department of Corrections records show Mann was released on parole in June 2017 after serving time for a first-degree robbery conviction in 2014. Both men, from nearby Schenectady, were apprehended without incident Friday night and arraigned Saturday.   Both are being held without bail in the Rensselaer County Jail with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 4th.

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3 weeks ago · by · 1,156 comments

Blackout At Atlanta Airport Strands Thousands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fire at an underground electrical facility caused an 11 hour blackout that brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill.  The blackout at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led to the cancellation of more than 1,500 flights and stranding tens of thousands of people in darkened terminals or on the tarmac, where some passengers sat for more than five hours on grounded planes.

The power outage began shortly after 1 p.m. leaving passengers in dim and overcrowded terminals as afternoon turned to evening.  Frustrated travelers lighted their way through smoky corridors with cellphones.  On Twitter, passengers reported waiting on the tarmac for more than five hours as the lack of power at the terminals made it hard to de-plane.  Getting out of the terminals quickly became difficult as traffic snarled access roads and MARTA trains ran at capacity to downtown.

The train between terminals was shut down and elevators, escalators, automatic doors and baggage carousels stood still.   Screens went black and the intercom for flight updates was silent.  No one could get reliable phone or internet service to access texts, email, flight apps or social media.  With a lack of information, travelers were too nervous to leave their spots, fearing the power might soon return at any moment and they’d lose their place in the line they were in.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed later said the fire was so intense that it damaged two substations serving the airport, including the airport’s back-up power system and prevented emergency crews from accessing the site for two to three hours.  Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s president and CEO said there was a failure in the switchgear that caused the fire and the fire was contained by 3:30pm.  An estimated 30,000 people were affected by the power outage.

Delta bore the brunt of the impact, cancelling approximately 900 flights and diverting 48 more. The carrier said about 300 flights would also be cancelled on Monday, as the chaos spilled into one of the busiest air travel weeks of the year.  The blackout led the Federal Aviation Administration to declare a ground stop at the airport, preventing Atlanta-bound flights in other airports from taking off and causing inbound flights to be diverted. The ground stop in Atlanta disrupted air travel across the United States.

Some power was restored just before midnight but stranded travelers were still sleeping on the floor the day after the outage.  Long ticket and security lines were moving slowly as normalcy began returning to the airport Monday.  Volunteers in shirts that said, “Ask Me,” tried to allay concerns and passed out doughnuts to those in line, many of whom shared horror stories about the night before.

Some travelers said airline and airport employees did their best to take care of stranded passengers, handing out blankets, beverages, even slices of pizza.  Others reported a lack of communication, widespread rumors, the strong smell of fire near baggage claim and a taxi line that amounted to “pandemonium.”  While some fortunate passengers were able to board the flights departing Atlanta the day after the outage, other passengers were being told they’d have to wait hours or days.  One airline was telling passengers it would be five days before they could get a flight out.

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3 weeks ago · by · 600 comments

Investigative Reports Prompt Puerto Rico To Review All Deaths After Maria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing mounting evidence that Puerto Rico has vastly undercounted the number of people who died because of Hurricane Maria, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered that every death on the island since the devastating storm be reviewed.  Officials will look review all deaths attributed to natural causes after the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 20 and knocked out power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans and to their hospitals and clinics.

Roselló made the order to the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, which is the island’s vital statistics bureau, and to the Department of Public Safety following the investigative media reports on the death toll and after residents claiming deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria.  The governor also said he’d create an expert panel to review the island’s death certification process.

The Puerto Rican government has put the official death toll at 64 but several investigations have revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died.   The prolonged blackout hampered critical medical treatment for some of the island’s most vulnerable patients, including many who were bedridden or dependent on dialysis or respirators. But if they died as a result, the storm’s role in their deaths may have gone officially unrecorded.

Several news organizations, including The New York Times, conducted independent analyses and found that the number of deaths traceable to the storm was far higher than the official count.  The Times’s review, based on daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau, found that 1,052 more people than usual had died across the island in the 42 days after Maria struck. The analysis compared daily figures for 2017 with an average of figures for the corresponding days in 2015 and 2016.

The leading causes of death on the island in September were diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Puerto Rican government data show.  There was a sharp 50 percent spike in the number of recorded deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection that can be tied to delayed medical care or poor living conditions.    Reports emerged of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to refrigerate insulin, evacuated from hospitals that lost emergency power and other problems.

Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, a heart attack might have been brought on by stress from the hurricane, or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets in time to help.

The governor’s announcement comes as the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico reported that nearly three months since the storm, 45 people are still listed as missing and efforts by Puerto Rico’s police to locate them have been minimal or almost nonexistent.    Parts of the island are still without power leaving many to celebrate Christmas in the dark.   The power grid is only operating at 70 percent of capacity and officials say power won’t be fully restored until the end of May.

 

 

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3 weeks ago · by · 109 comments

Amtrak Train Derails In Washington State

 

 

 

Officials say three people are confirmed dead and 70 injured in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that plummeted off an overpass in Washington state.  Part of the train was left dangling over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont at the height of the Monday morning commute.   The high-speed passenger train was on a trip from Seattle to Portland when it derailed.  Federal investigators say the Amtrak train was traveling at 80 miles per hour when it barreled off the tracks in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. The accident sent some of the train’s cars tumbling onto the highway below.

The train, identified by Amtrak as the high-speed Train 501 from Seattle to Portland, was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed just after 7:30 a.m. local time.   All but one of its cars and engines jumped the tracks and at least one fell to the roadway below.  Multiple vehicles on the roadway below were struck by train cars that left the train tracks.   Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency to aid the response to the crash, which also clogged one of the state’s busiest roadways, used by some 60,000 people every day.

Amtrak Cascades trains began using a faster, more direct route that day, making this its inaugural trip.  Previously, it used to snake along the edge of Puget Sound, which was a slower route but began running on tracks known as the Point Defiance Bypass, which are owned by the Sound Transit agency. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the Federal Railroad Administration funded and reviewed recent upgrades to the tracks. All told, the project’s budget was nearly $181 million.

The change in route was met with criticism from some residents in the area after it was announced. Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted a deadly accident.   “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens” Anderson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s too early to tell what caused the derailment and that its investigators would spend a week or more scouring the wreckage for clues. Ahead of the crash, the mayor of the city of Lakewood raised safety concerns about the new rail line, predicting earlier this month it could lead to multiple deaths. The train was not utilizing positive train control—a technology mandated by Congress, but rarely operating in Amtrak trains—which could have prevented the crash.

 

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