MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) — A massive highway pileup being blamed on whiteout conditions killed at least two people and injured scores of others Thursday afternoon in northwestern Indiana, police and a coroner said.
LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan confirmed the two deaths and said the toll could rise because cars were still trapped under semitrailers on Interstate 94 and hadn't been searched.
"They're still trying to get to all the vehicles. They are cutting and extricating the vehicles," Sullivan told The Associated Press.
He told WLS-TV in Chicago that the situation was "looking grim."
"There may be many more fatalities. The clock is working against us," he said.
Coroners from surrounding counties were called to the scene. The accident occurred around 3:30 p.m. Thursday near Michigan City, which is about a 60-mile drive from Chicago.
Franciscan St. Anthony Health in Michigan City had received at least 10 patients, said Dr. Jim Callaghan, president of the hospital.
Callaghan said two of those patients had died and one was in critical condition. He didn't have information about their injuries.
Sullivan estimated an additional 15 to 20 people with less serious injuries had been taken to a LaPorte, Ind., hospital.
Photos of the scene showed at least a dozen tractor-trailers jammed together the width of the highway near an overpass. Some passenger vehicles cars were sandwiched in the wreckage.
Indiana State Police said eastbound I-94 was expected to be closed through the night. Cranes and wreckers were being brought in to help clear the scene, and school buses were summoned to keep those stuck in the pileup warm.
Dixie Juchcinski told WMAQ-TV that the accident occurred during a snowstorm.
"When we first came to a stop, it was a complete white out," Juchcinski said. "It was kind of a surprise to us because we could only see one or two cars in front of us."
Another witness, Laura Burcham, told WLS-TV she was "in tears just looking at it."
National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said heavy snow was reported in the area at the time of the crash. He said a band of lake effect snow moved in late in the afternoon, dropping 1 to 2 inches of snow an hour and reducing visibility to a quarter mile or less, with some reports of visibility near zero.