JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The escalators remained shut down Monday night at the Exchange Place PATH station in Jersey City, after five people were injured when the escalator suddenly changed directions.
As CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed one of the entrances to the PATH station while workers attended to the escalators. Meanwhile, investigators were looking into the possibility that damage from Superstorm Sandy was responsible for the horrifying mishap.
Port Authority spokesman Ron Marsico said an ascending escalator suddenly changed direction Monday shortly after 9 a.m.
“I saw people scrambling and there were also people in the dividers that crawled up onto the divider between the escalators,” witness Carolyn Baxter told 1010 WINS. “I was pretty scared because I didn’t know what was going on.”
The injuries were all non-life threatening, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.
As passengers screamed, Michael Nochimson and two other men grabbed onto the side rail and held on in a panic.
“You see me basically on the rail. I jumped onto the rail and was holding on while the escalator slipped backwards and picked up momentum,” he said.
Brian Lafond, 23, was also on the malfunctioning escalator.
“My heart was racing. I was terrified,” Lafond told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
He suffered cuts to his leg and wrists.
“All of a sudden, the escalator suddenly changed directions. It didn’t stop, it just started going right down and people screamed. I instantly jumped onto the side railing between the two escalators and I could see people piling on top of each other at the bottom,” Lafond said.
“The escalator was going upwards and then all of the sudden it reverses and then it started accelerating, so people were just panicked,” Petra Baxter added.
The Port Authority released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“PATH officials are looking into the cause of today’s escalator incident at Exchange Place, including whether Superstorm Sandy related effects played a role. As a precaution, PATH has suspended escalator service at Exchange Place through tomorrow morning. Agents will be on hand tonight and tomorrow to direct customers to the stairs and elevators. In addition, workers are reviewing all PATH escalators throughout the system.”
A spokesman for the Port Authority said most of the injured suffered bumps, scrapes and bruises, though some people reported neck and back pain. Three we taken to an area hospital as a precaution, the Port Authority said.
Nick Lukish, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said he was headed to work and midway up the escalator when the moving staircase started going down.
“There was a stampede at the base of the escalator,” Lukish told The Associated Press. “People started to panic and yell and scream, and I saw some people jump over to the down side of the escalator, so I jumped.”
WARNING: Graphic Language
The 33-year-old said it wasn’t until he got to work that he noticed he had cuts and bruises on his shins from the jump. After going to a pharmacy to get some bandages, he returned to the station to give his account to police.
Some commuters said the escalators are prone to outages.
“I sent an e-mail asking why they raised the rates and it seemed like the service continued to deteriorate and they told me that the parts come from overseas,” commuter Steve Rich told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Two of the station’s three escalators were shut down after the incident.
Authorities Monday night were trying to determine whether damage from Superstorm Sandy was to blame.
At the Grove Street PATH station one stop away, a safety expert said accidents like the one at Exchange Place are rare. But if it happens, he advises holding onto the rail, which will keep you upright even in reverse.
“The problem is when one person or two people fall. That’s when the pile-ups begin. That’s when you get the broken bones, or the scrapes, or whatever types of injuries you’re going to get,” said escalator expert Patrick Carrajat.
Carrajat said an escalator reversal is a nightmare scenario that no one can prepare for.
“The word pray comes to mind, because there’s really not much you can do,” Carrajat said.
Meanwhile, with the escalator out of commission for the time being, commuters have to walk the 128 steps to the top.
“Horrible, horrible,” another commuter told Diamond. “It’s such a long way to go.”
But many said they will be taking the stairs from now on.
There was no immediate word from the Port Authority on when that escalator will be back in service.
What would you do in a situation like this? Leave your comments below…
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)