A Pennsylvania snow squall is suspected to have caused a deadly pileup on I-78 near Fredericksburg, reported the Associated Press. The massive crash involved more than 50 vehicles and killed at least three people, with dozens more injured and seeking care in local hospitals.
Trooper Justin Summa confirmed the three fatalities and said an unknown number of critically-injured patients were airlifted to hospitals, with at least 70 more transported by ambulance to other medical facilities after the deadly pileup, which happened around 9:45 a.m. on Saturday. The pileup reportedly left tractor trailers, trucks, and cars of all sizes sprawled across three lanes of traffic and a snow-covered median near Fredericksburg, which lies about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia, according to CBS News.
At nearby Penn State Hershey Medical Center, a spokesperson told the AP that 10 patients had been brought in from the crash and three were in critical condition, while the others had a variety of minor, moderate and severe injuries. According to Trooper Adam Reed, a sudden major snowfall was to blame.
“Passing snow squalls played a role in causing the crash.”
This conclusion is supported by eyewitness reports, which detail sudden whiteout conditions on I-78 right before the deadly pileup, according to PennLive.com. Raul Jardine, of nearby Allentown, was hit from behind in Saturday’s pileup even though he slowed down when he saw the brake lights on cars ahead of him.
“It just turned real white.”
Pennsylvania State Police said the crash blocked the east and westbound lanes of I-78, which lies in Bethel Township close to the Berks County and Lebanon County lines, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. The interstate remained closed Saturday, but reopened to traffic shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday.
An emergency operation center was activated and a special response team was dispatched to deliver stockpiled supplies such as food and water if necessary, reported CBS. Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman Cory Angell urged drivers to continue using caution due to dangerously low temperatures and drifting snow that will make roads hazardous despite efforts to keep them clear.
“There were several serious injuries. You could be driving down the interstate, and all of a sudden conditions change because the winds are drifting the snow.”
The Penn State University – Lehigh Valley men’s basketball team was among those affected by the deadly pileup, but no team members were seriously injured, according to the university’s website. The team was on its way to a game in New Kensington when its bus was hit by a tractor trailer, according to the Inquirer. Penn State Lehigh Valley spokesperson Kate Morgan said the team returned home early Saturday afternoon and all athletes were examined “as a precaution” at area hospitals.
“As of 8 p.m. all 12 members of the basketball team as well as three coaches have been examined by hospital personnel. None of their injuries were life-threatening and most have already been released to their families and are on their way home.”
Not all victims of the deadly pileup were so lucky, however, and photos show cars and trucks smashed up at all angles, with at least one tractor trailer on its side. James Steffy, a resident who lives close to the crash site, told CBS News affiliate WHP-TV that the crash was deafening.
“It sounded like two bombs went off. We thought it was thunderclouds, and my wife ran up over the hill and saw the accident.”
Police reported that dozens of additional crash victims were also transported to a warming shelter operated by the American Red Cross at a local firehouse. Trooper Summa said they would receive a meal and help gaining access to rental cars.
[Photo Credit: Cooper Leslie via AP]