HOBOKEN, N.J. (Mary Jo Layton and Abbott Koloff, The Record via USA TODAY) — Tahir Qureshi sat right behind the engineer in the first car of Pascack Valley Train 1614 as it pulled into the Hoboken station at the end of what had been an ordinary commute Thursday morning — when suddenly he was knocked to the floor by what felt like a bomb detonating.
When he opened his eyes, he said, the roof of the car was “right above my head” and it was filled with concrete and other debris. Amid screams and falling debris, passengers began crawling toward emergency windows where NJ Transit employees pulled people to safety. One elderly man was bleeding from his head, Qureshi said, while the car was flattened and resembled a “pancake.”
The engineer, who could be seen through an open door during the trip, appeared to be in no distress up until the crash, Qureshi said.
It was his second brush with disaster. On Sept. 11, 2001, Qureshi was just entering the south tower of the World Trade Center when a plane hit the building, and his family didn’t know he was safe until much later that night, he said. This time, the 42-year-old father of three from New Milford, N.J., said he called his wife from the hospital and was home by the afternoon after being treated for a bruised knee.
“This is No. 2 for me,” he said, adding that he was “amazed” that his injuries were so minor. “I’m thankful and blessed.”
Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, a 34-year-old Hoboken woman who was standing on the platform of the station, was struck by debris and killed, while 108 people suffered injuries, none of them life-threatening. Some were taken to area hospitals by ambulances while others were transported by NJ Transit buses, and still others walked to emergency rooms with a variety of cuts and bruises.
Passengers described a chaotic and frightening scene where ordinary people helped one another and first responders were quick to provide assistance after the Pascack Valley Line train jumped off the tracks, struck a wall and was partially flattened as the station roof caved in on it. Some said they thought at first that a bomb had gone off, then quickly realized the train had derailed.
“I thought we were going to die,” said Alexis Valle, 24, of Bergenfield, N.J., five months pregnant, who was sitting toward the front of the train.
Valle suffered a head injury and was transported to Carepoint Health Hoboken University Medical Center. Physicians used staples to close the wound and a bandage was wrapped from her chin to the top her head when she was released. Her baby was fine.
Valle said the train seemed to be going too fast as it rolled into the station at about 8:45 a.m. One moment, she was going through the familiar steps of preparing to disembark on her way to a job on Wall Street; the next, she was scrambling through a window, desperate to escape.
“The train just didn’t stop,” she recalled a short time later. “The ceiling fell on my head.” Her mother, who had rushed to the hospital, said she was “relieved” that her daughter wasn’t seriously hurt.
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