Vancouver student on Amtrak that dangled over I-5

Emma Shafer, 20, was taking a nap when her Amtrak train went off the rails

Cole Miller and KOIN 6 News Staff - LA CENTER, Wash. (KOIN) -- Emma Shafer's senses were electric upon being woken up, jolted by the sudden crashing. She heard the screeching of the wheels as she was thrown from her sleeping seat. She could feel the angle of her train car change as it hung from the overpass over Interstate-5. She could smell -- and even taste -- burning rubber.

"Like burning rubber mixed with metal," Shafer recalled a day after her Amtrak train heading from Seattle-to-Portland derailed in Pierce County, Washington. "And it really filled up your entire mouth."

Definitely not the scene Shafer thought she'd wake up to when she slipped her shoes off and closed her eyes.

Shafer, 20, was one of over 80 people on the Amtrak 501 train that derailed and killed 3 people on Monday. Shafer left the scene of the tragedy unscathed. And a day after it happened, she returned to the site, remembering the experience.

"I know a lot of us got to walk away unharmed," Shafer said, "and some of us didn't get to walk away at all."

On Monday, Shafer was heading home for break from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She got comfortable. She kicked her shoes off and drifted to sleep.

Then, at 7:34 a.m., the Amtrak train, making its inaugural run on a new route bypass over I-5, went off the rails. The train was traveling at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. Shafer's car hung off the overpass.

"We were at like a 45 degree angle so it was really difficult to walk around the cabin and find everything," Shafer said.

She can still picture the destruction.

"There was definitely the crunching of glass and one of our windows had been punctured by another piece of train," she said.

And hear the sounds.

"There was one person who sounded like their leg was injured," she said. "They were yelling about their leg being pinned, or 'Don't touch my leg.'"

After a few minutes first responders got her out of the car and to safety.

The next day, Shafer went back to the scene. Crews were still working on cleaning up the remnants. WSDOT said they'll be working through Tuesday night to remove the remaining rail cars.

Still, even after such little time, Shafer felt impulsed to go back. She hopes she'll be able to stow away the moment in her memories, move on and enjoy the rest of her break, spent with family and away from the crash.

"It all felt kind of surreal, kind of like a dream," she said. "So I just thought it would be nice to have some distance between the event and my current state of mind to see it."

  

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