Part of a Pennsylvania highway remained closed on Tuesday as cleanup continued after a deadly pileup during a snow squall on Monday.
The northbound lanes of Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County remained closed as authorities removed multiple tractor-trailers and debris, said Ronald Young, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The freeway’s southbound lanes reopened Monday afternoon, Young said.
Pennsylvania State Police advised drivers to avoid the area as the investigation continues and estimated in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday that the cleaning was “about halfway done”.
More than 50 vehicles were involved in the violent crash which killed at least three people and injured dozens more. The shipwrecks occurred near Minersville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, John Blickley of the county’s Office of Emergency Management told USA TODAY.
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“This is probably the biggest crash we’ve had on the freeway in years,” Blickley said Tuesday.
How many people were injured?
Snow and fires initially made it difficult for emergency services to access the scene.
Pennsylvania State Police said 24 injured people were taken to four different hospitals. Police said the “walking injured” and others involved in the crash were bused to a Wegman distribution center in an industrial park near the scene.
Schuylkill County Coroner Dr. David J. Moylan confirmed three people had been killed and warned Monday afternoon that the death toll “could be higher” as burning vehicles hampered the search.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm said some vehicles were burned to the underside.
What caused the accident?
It’s unclear how the crash unfolded, but police said the highway was already covered in snow when a snow squall passed. The National Weather Service had warned of “numerous brief intense snow squalls with very poor visibility”.
“There’s a car crashing, it starts the stall,” Beohm told USA TODAY. “Next thing you know, they’re crashing into everything because the road is closed and blocked. There’s nowhere to go. So you’re crashing into each other.”
Videos shared on social networks showed how quickly the conditions on the road changed, with tractor-trailers losing control and colliding with each other and a person jumping out of the way as an SUV hits a passenger car, causing it to spin. Black smoke and flames can be seen rising from a large truck.
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Blickley said three tractor-trailers caught fire and at least two other small fires were reported.
The first state police vehicle to arrive was involved in the crash, and one soldier suffered minor injuries, Beohm said. The fires were out by 6 p.m. Monday, Beohm said.
Beohm, who was at the scene Tuesday, said tractor-trailers were still strewn across the highway.
“The whole roadway is black from the fire,” he said.
Beohm estimated between 50 and 60 vehicles were involved in the accident, but said it could take a week or two to determine the actual number involved.
Snow squalls triggered other deadly pile-ups. A flurry reduced visibility to near zero and caused a pile-up involving 50 vehicles that shut down a nearby stretch of I-81 in late February, WNEP-TV reported.
Contributor: The Associated Press