Brett Duke/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP
NEW ORLEANS — At least seven people were killed after a “superfog” of smoke from south Louisiana swamp fires and dense fog caused several massive car crashes Monday morning involving a total of 158 vehicles, authorities announced.
Twenty-five people were injured and the death toll could rise as first responders continue to clear the crash scene and search for victims, Louisiana State Police said in a news release Monday evening.
Governor John Bel Edwards appealed for blood donors and asked for prayers “for those who have been injured and killed.”
Videos of the wreck showed what looked like a never-ending junkyard of cars overtaking the busy highway near the community of Manchac. Vehicles were crushed, crushed against each other and some were engulfed in flames. Many people stood on the side of the road, watching in disbelief at the disastrous scene, while others remained in their cars waiting for help.
Christopher Coll, 41, was among the drivers involved in one of the pileups.
“I was already on the brakes, slowing down when an F-250 came up on top of my work trailer and took me for a ride,” Coll said. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.
Coll could smell smoke when he heard other drivers calling for help, as well as the sounds of cars crashing and tires blowing out. He managed to open his passenger door to escape, then helped others by pulling a person out through a car window.
Clarencia Patterson Reed was also in the wave of crashed cars while traveling to Manchac with her wife and niece. Reed told the Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that she could see people waving their hands for her to stop, but when she did, her car was hit from behind and side by two other vehicles.
“It was ‘Boom. Boom.’ All you heard was a crash for at least 30 minutes,” Reed said. She managed to get out of her car, but her wife was trapped inside and injured her leg and side.
Louisiana State Police shared aerial photos on their Facebook page showing dozens of crashed cars and heavy debris on the northbound and southbound lanes of the elevated highway, which passes over swamps and open water between lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas.
As of Monday afternoon, state officials were still working “to notify families, investigate the exact causes of the accidents” and coordinate with the state Department of Transportation to have the bridge inspected.
Traffic was backed up for miles in both directions on I-55. The lack of visibility also led to the closure of parts of I-10 and the 24-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway at times.
School buses were called to transport stranded motorists to the scene of the accident. At noon, state police told reporters at the scene that a vehicle went over the highway guardrail and fell into the water, but the driver escaped unharmed.
On social networks, the The National Weather Service said there have been several wetland fires in the area. Smoke from the fires mixed with fog to create a “superfog.” Visibility improved as the fog lifted, according to the agency. But it’s unclear how long the swamp fires, whose smoke could be seen and smelled in the New Orleans area over the weekend, would be a factor.
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported Several schools in and around New Orleans announced class cancellations or delayed openings due to smoke and fog. Smoke coming from the Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge was thick enough that the city announced locations where free masks could be picked up in eastern New Orleans and the Algiers neighborhood on the west bank of the river Mississippi.