Janna D’Ambrisi was in Washington, D.C., for a conference and decided to take an Amtrak train home Tuesday night so she could make it back for work on Wednesday morning.
While she sat in the second-to-last car of the train reading her book at around 9:30 p.m., the 26-year-old from New York, who works for an environmental start-up, suddenly felt like the train was going too fast around a curve.
“I don’t even know if we were going around a curve or if it was just whiplash,” she tells PEOPLE. “It all happened too fast.” Seven people are confirmed dead after D’Ambrisi’s train derailed in Philadelphia, including a 21-year-old Navy shipman and a 48-year-old software architect.
D’Ambrisi was sitting in the aisle on the right side of the train, and within seconds she fell onto the girl sitting right next to her.
“The train was completely tilted,” she says. “People were pinned underneath their seats and everyone was screaming.”
Someone’s leg hit her face and she soon realized the rest of that person’s body was in the luggage rack above her.
When D’Ambrisi knew she was physically okay, she looked around to help others. A man was trapped in the bathroom, and a 20-year-old was having a panic attack.
“I asked her name and held her hand,” she says. “I was dizzy myself and it was hard to walk straight, but I knew I had to stay strong. Everyone was panicked but we all helped each other out.”
It was only when she got off the train that she realized how horrific the accident was.
“I looked ahead and saw such destruction. The train was perpendicular to the track.” says D’Ambrisi. “People were bleeding from the head and using clothing to help stop the blood. We could hear the sirens coming. It didn’t take long for us get help.”
And in the meantime, passengers helped one another.
“People really came together,” she says. “We were in a very bad part of town, but local residents started to come out of their houses and even offered their homes for us to rest. They gave us water and were so friendly.”
D’Ambrisi didn’t get back to her apartment until 2:15 a.m. and didn’t get back to work Wednesday morning like planned – but that’s the last thing on her mind.
“I’m so lucky I’m okay because a lot of people weren’t,” she says. “But I made quite a few pals. There are a lot of good people out there.”