An unfamiliar number flashed on the screen of my cellphone shortly after 7 on Monday night. I was waiting at home for my wife to get back from a quick trip in and out of New York City and thinking about how to get the kids to go to bed.
I answered. It was Lisa, calling from a Long Island Rail Road car stuck in the approach to the East River tunnel. She said that a car behind hers had derailed and that the passengers had not been told anything yet about when they would be rescued. Though there were lights in her car, the air-conditioning was off, and, she said, passengers were dripping with sweat. She was using another person’s phone. Verizon customers had service in this portion of the underground; AT&T users, like us, did not.
When we got off the phone, I turned to online news reports, of which there were few, and Twitter, which was abuzz.
Those who were able to get messages out of the first six cars of the train were updating their feeds, many hashtagged #LIRR. I tweeted what Lisa had told me, and within a few minutes two reporters had sent messages asking if I could put them in touch with her.
I noticed that the Long Island Rail Road had its own Twitter feed, @LIRRscoop, and that someone had posted a terse message that there had been a derailment and that Penn Station had been closed. Then nothing. Annoyed by the silence, I wrote a couple of needling messages. “Crickets,” I offered at one point. A couple of hours later, @LIRRscoop thanked me for my support.
After 40 minutes of not hearing anything, I began to get anxious. Then it was an hour. Then two. Finally, Lisa was able to get out a text message: “Train is derailed on track still. We evacuated to another train that has to go to Queens and then back to Penn.”
Lisa was able to get the 9:30 p.m. Jitney to wait for her as she raced from Penn Station to the 40th Street stop. Like the kids, I was asleep when she got home after midnight. All I remember her saying was “seven hours.”
In the morning, she was in good spirits. She had saved two small boxes of emergency water rations that emergency responders had given to the stuck passengers in her car. I took a photograph of them and, yes, sent it out on Twitter. No word back from @LIRRscoop.