The L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D.C. was temporarily closed after heavy smoke filled the subway station Monday afternoon, causing one woman to die and dozens of other commuters to be hospitalized.
FBI agents with the National Capital Response Squad responded to the incident, following local protocol, according to a spokesperson for the Washington field office. But there was no indication that the smoke was the result of anything beyond a mechanical or electrical fire event, the agency said Monday night.
George Washington University Hospital received 34 patients in varying conditions suffering from smoke inhalation, a hospital spokesperson said. According to the D.C. Fire and EMS Twitter account, however, 84 people were transported to multiple area hospitals and over 200 people were evaluated for injuries. Two people were in critical, according to Metro General Manager Richard Sarlis.
“People stayed pretty calm,” Allie Burns, who was on the Yellow Line train that stopped just short of the station when the smoke was reported around 3:20 p.m., told NBC News. Passengers were told to keep the doors shut, Burns said, as the train filled up with smoke. Some people lay down near the ground to breathe better, while others passed around a water bottle to moisten scarves held around their mouths and noses.
Firefighters soon emerged to help remove people from the train, Burns said, but she saw several people experiencing medical problems, including one woman who passed out, a man who had trouble walking, and another man who appeared to be having a seizure.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team of investigators and fire specialists to evaluate the incident, NBC News reports.
In a brief press conference later Monday night, NTSB investigator Mike Flanigon said the cause appeared to be an “electrical arcing event involving the third rail,” but that the investigation would continue Tuesday. Flanigon said it was unclear whether weather was a factor.
“We are all saddened by today’s fatality aboard the Metrorail, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the passenger who passed away,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement issued Monday night. “I want to thank our brave first responders who assisted passengers during the evacuation and with treatment at the scene. I have been in contact with the WMATA leadership, and we will continue to keep the District’s resources available in the aftermath of the incident.”
Virginia Democratic Congressmen Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly also released a statement Monday night offering their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. “We are heartbroken at the news of today’s events on the Metro line and await a clear and thorough accounting of the events that led to today’s tragedy,” they said in the joint statement. “No one should fear for their lives on their commute.”