A portion of a Pennsylvania highway remained closed Tuesday as cleanup continues after a deadly pileup during a snow squall.
The northbound lanes of Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County will remain closed for 5 to 8 hours Tuesday morning as authorities remove multiple tractor trailers and debris, said Ronald Young, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The southbound lanes of the highway reopened Monday afternoon, Young said.
Pennsylvania State Police advised drivers to avoid the area as the investigation continued and estimated the cleanup “is about half done” in a statement on Twitter Tuesday.
More than 50 vehicles were involved in the fiery crash Monday that killed at least three people and injured dozens more. The collision occurred near Minersville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, John Blickley of the county’s emergency management office, told USA TODAY.
WHAT IS THE POLAR VORTEX:In-depth look at how it can affect winter weather in the US.
“This is probably the most significant crash we’ve had on the interstate in years,” Blickley said Tuesday.
How many people were injured?
Snowy conditions and fires made it difficult for emergency services to access the scene.
Pennsylvania State Police said 24 injured people were transported to four different hospitals. Police said the “walking wounded” and others involved in the crash were taken by bus to a Wegman’s distribution center in an industrial park near the scene.
Schuylkill County coroner Dr. David J. Moylan confirmed three people were killed and warned Monday afternoon that the death toll “could run higher” because burning vehicles were hindering the search of the scene.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm said some vehicles were burned down to the frame
What caused the crash?
It’s unclear how the crash unfolded, but police said the highway was covered in snow when a snow squall came through. The National Weather Service warned of “numerous brief heavy snow squalls with very poor visibility.”
“There’s one car that crashes, starts the blockage,” Beohm told USA TODAY. “Next thing you know, they’re just crashing into everything because the roads closed and it’s blocked. There’s no place to go. So you just crash into each other.”
Videos shared on social media showed how quickly conditions on the road changed, tractor trailers losing control and slamming into each other and a person jumping out of the way as an SUV strikes a passenger car, sending it spinning. Black smoke and flames can be seen rising from a large truck.
‘SUDDEN WHITEOUTS’:Snow squalls in the northeast can create slick roads, forecasters say
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 a trooper suffered minor injuries Beohm said. The fires were out by 6 pm Monday, Beohm added.
Beohm, who was at the scene Tuesday, said tractor trailers are still scattered across the highway.
“The whole road is black from the fire,” he said.
Beohm estimated between 50 and 60 vehicles were involved in the crash, but said it could take a week or two to determine the true number of number of vehicles involved.
Snow squalls have triggered other deadly pileups. A snow squall reduced visibility to nearly zero causing a pileup involving 50 vehicles that shut down a nearby part of I-81 in late February, WNEP-TV reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism