September 22, 1993, was a fog-shrouded night with virtually no visibility. The river traffic moved sluggishly, the great barges that ran incessantly up and down the river drifting blindly, boatloads of goods intended for consumers moving along the river as regular as clockwork.
When one of the barges slid into the bridge at Bayou Canot, the men felt the impact but had no way of knowing what they hit, certainly never imagining it was a bridge. Nor did the Amtrak engineer know what to expect, guided by instruments long become routine, hurling through the night into tragedy. At 5:23 am, Amtrak's Twilight Limited derailed at Bayou Canot in Mobile, Alabama, killing forty-seven people as it sped across a seriously damaged bridge into open space.
Fate and timing converged in the aberrant crash of barge into bridge, followed by the free fall of the Twilight Limited into the cold, black water. The men on the closest barges immediately launched a rescue effort to save those thrashing about in the freezing water, clinging to remnants of the train. When the media descended upon the scene, their spotlights cast an eerie glow over the horrific carnage.
First time novelist Formichella highlights the people involved in the accident: the man at the wheel of the barge, certain passengers on the train and a fireman from the emergency crew, who nurtured faint hopes of finding survivors. The barge pilot's life was shattered, his world changed forever in a split second. Random passengers, memorable for their little eccentricities, are lost forever, while other inexplicably survives. Most touching is the fireman who desperately attempts to save the victims, haunted by what he witnessed night after night in his dreams.
The author felt a personal need to tell this story, to capture the personal perspective, the natural, ungoverned responses to a life-changing event. Formichella's novel is a reminder of human vulnerability and the emotional baggage of such disasters, the broken lives that carry their sad memories, as well as incredible, if unremarked, acts of heroism.