A dangerous mixture of snow and fog caused a massive pileup on a Pennsylvania highway on Monday, leading to the deaths of three people and dozens of injuries.
Interstate 81 remained closed throughout Monday as crews worked to clear the wreckage, which included at least 50 cars, The Washington Post reported. The outlet attributed the massive crash to “blinding snow squalls” that “were moving through the region at the time.”
Dr. David J. Moylan, the Schuylkill County coroner, told the Associated Press that three people had been confirmed dead late Monday afternoon, a number the outlet noted “could rise because fires were impeding rescuers.” The AP reported on video that showed the crash:
In one video, an out of control tractor-trailer smashed into a large dump truck turning it nearly 180 degrees, another large truck caught fire and spewed black smoke into the air, and an SUV struck a passenger car sending it spinning narrowly past a person standing on the shoulder in snow and fog.
Video mounted on the dash of a vehicle showed how quickly the road conditions changed. Stopped vehicles rose like a wall in front of the driver, and a person on the roadway stretched their arms out and jumped to escape the runaway vehicle. The impact sounded like thunder.
The outlet also noted that the Schuylkill County Office of Emergency Management said the crash occurred around 10:30 a.m. on Monday. The agency’s Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator John Blickley told the outlet that snow squalls made it difficult to see and were likely contributors to the crash. The agency told The Post that 24 people had been taken to local hospitals.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm told the AP on Monday afternoon that fires were keeping officials from fully investigating the crash and that fire units needed water tankers to take out the fires because the crash was “in the middle of nowhere … there’s not a fire hydrant out here anywhere.”
Beohm also told the outlet that the highway was already covered with snow when the snow squall occurred.
“All it takes is one person to crash into something and you have to pull off the road, but when you continue to drive at highway speed, this is what happens,” he told the AP.
“People whose vehicles were in the crash and the ‘walking wounded’ were taken to the Wegman’s distribution center in an industrial park near the crash, he said, and a reunification center had been set up at the Goodwill Fire Company No. 1 in Minersville for people to meet friends or relatives or arrange accommodations,” the AP added.
Prior to the crash, the National Weather Service had reportedly warned drivers about “numerous brief heavy snow squalls with very poor visibility.”
“The squalls will quickly reduce the visibility to under one-half of a mile and coat the roads with snow,” weather forecasters predicted, according to the AP.