DETROIT (AP) — Snow squalls, high winds and slippery roads led to a chain-reaction of crashes on a mile-long stretch of an interstate in Detroit Thursday, leaving at least three people dead and 20 injured.
Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said visibility was poor when the mass of crashes happened on Interstate 75 on the southwest side of the city. The injured, including children, have been taken to hospitals, Shaw said.
SUVs with smashed front ends and cars with doors hanging open sat scattered across the debris-littered highway, some crunched against jackknifed tractor-trailers and tankers.
Motorists and passengers who were able to a get out of their vehicles huddled together on the side of the road, some visibly distraught, others looking dazed. A man and woman hugged under the gray, cloud-filled skies, a pair of suitcases next to them and a bumper on the ground behind.
"We're not sure of the cause," Shaw told The Associated Press. "Some witnesses said there were white-out conditions."
More than two dozen vehicles were involved in the pileups and scores of cars and trucks not involved in crashes were stuck on the freeway behind. Shaw said it could be hours before the freeway reopened.
Greg Galuszka was driving a fuel truck along I-75 when white-out conditions quickly materialized.
"I looked on my driver's side mirror, and I could see the trucks piling up back there," Galuszka said, pointing to a mass of twisted metal where vehicles had smashed into each other a short time earlier.
"Then, when I looked in my passenger side (mirror), is when I saw the steel hauler coming up," he said. "I just said my prayers from there and said, 'Please don't hit me.'"
Shaw said many people had to be pulled from their vehicles. Numerous fire engines and ambulances were at the scene.
The crash happened as a wave of snow and strong blustery winds reduced visibility across southeastern Michigan, said Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oakland County's White Lake Township.
"There was a pattern of snow showers moving through the area in the midmorning hours," Tilley said. Nearby Detroit Metropolitan Airport had west winds at 20 miles per hour, with gusts to 33 mph around the time of the crash. The temperature of 24 degrees was about 30 degrees colder than a day before.
The crash happened near an elevated stretch of expressway where the road surface can cool quickly and make driving hazardous, Tilley said.