Norma Raybourn was outside her Santa Fe Avenue home Sunday, celebrating with friends and relatives at a birthday party, when she heard the train.
“It was noisy and it just kept getting noisier,” she said. “Then it was vibrating and it just kept getting worse.”
Raybourn and her family ran to the front of the yard in time to see several cars of a freight train derail, crashing into one another and into a self-storage facility in a massive cloud of dust.
A video taken by Tom Stevenson, who was taking photos at the party, shows the dust enveloping the area before clearing to show cars leaning to the side near the front of the train and off the tracks and crumpled into one another farther back.
No injuries were reported in the accident, which occurred at 4:55 p.m. at East Zeering Road and North Santa Fe, Stanislaus County sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said. And the train, heading north, wasn’t carrying hazardous materials, a concern that had Raybourn and her family hustling back into the rear yard after running out front to see what was happening.
All but three of the train cars were empty, Bejaran said, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe investigators were checking the manifest to make sure everything had been accounted for. Firefighters opened storage units to make sure no hazardous materials had been spilled and nobody had been hurt.
The cause of the accident had not been determined.
Authorities closed the tracks along Santa Fe between East Monte Vista Avenue and East Keyes Road. Bejaran estimated that investigators would be there a few days. He had no estimation of when the tracks would be reopened to freight trains or Amtrak’s passenger service, because some of the rail was damaged.
Amtrak dispatched a bus to carry passengers expecting to get on the train Sunday evening. That included Fabiola Rubio of Delhi, headed back to the University of California at Davis and planning to get on the 7:10 p.m. train. She called Amtrak after a friend who lived in Denair told her about the derailment.
At Raybourn’s home, friends and family stood around and talked about the unbelievable scene they’d witnessed. Some said they at first thought it was a car accident, as one had happened a few years before.
“Everybody was just shaking,” Raybourn said. “We were like, ‘Are you kidding? This is happening in front of our eyes.’ “