ELLICOTT CITY (WMAR) - A man sitting inside an Ellicott City bar at around midnight heard a rumble and felt a shake.
To say he was surprised when he took a peek outside would be an understatement.
"Just a big ole rumble -- a big rumble, big boom, and on my way out the door some kid comes in yelling, 'hey, you gotta check this out!'" Brad Arnold said.
Arnold, an employee of Phoenix Emporium, a pub across the street from the railway, said he was inside the business running credit cards when the train derailment happened.
"Come outside, and you know, I looked up the street, down the street -- didn't really notice anything until I looked up the bridge. ...That's when it all became real," Arnold said.
Witnesses to the tragic accident say coal and pieces of mangled rail cars littered the side of the tracks seemingly as far as the eye could see. Many wondered what could be underneath.
"The train was on its side, and you could see the train on its side all the way down to Main Street," said Allison DeThomas. "You walk down to Main Street, and there was just coal across the street. No one could get by, people couldn't leave. Everyone was stuck."
What could be underneath rail cars and coal is a concern for local emergency response workers..
"There is a county operated parking lot that serves the restaurants and shops on Main Street and a number of those train cars fell on top of automobiles," said Howard County executive Ken Ulman. "…Train cars with their coal fell on top of the vehicles."
Ulman said crews searched what they could, but a bulk of the search would not be completed until large cranes could be called in to pull rail cars off vehicles.
The county executive struggled to put into words the scene of what Elliott City had become.
A major train derailment in a historic area, he said, is shocking.
"When a train derails, it's usually in the middle of the woods somewhere in an isolated area.
To be in the heart of historic Main Street Ellicott City, looking at piles of coal, cars with train cars on their side, it's a tough thing to put into words," he said.
PHOTOS | View images from the scene
VIDEO | Watch video from crash site
Thus far, officials have confirmed two deaths related to the derailment . They say 19-year-old Elizabeth Nass and 19-year-old Rose Mayr of Ellicott City were on the bridge as the event unfolded.
"A police investigation is going on right now," Ulman said. "We don't know why."
Patrons of the Phoenix Emporium say people walking on the tracks at night is nothing odd.