PHILADELPHIA — A pair of multi-car pileups — including one involving dozens of vehicles — in icy conditions on interstates in the Philadelphia area claimed at least three lives on Sunday as hundreds of crashes were reported across eastern Pennsylvania, authorities said.
A crash involving an estimated 30 to 50 vehicles on Interstate 76 early Sunday killed one person, state police said. The crash blamed on “flash-freezing” prompted closure of the highway in both directions, although one lane was reopened in the afternoon.
Two other people were killed in a crash involving multiple vehicles on Interstate 476, police said.
Both interstates are busy arteries serving communities west of the city. Officials said Interstate 95, a north-south highway through the area, was also closed early Sunday but had since reopened.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Eugene Blaum called travel conditions “very hazardous” due to light rain falling onto cold surfaces, creating a sheet of ice.
“This is the worst type of winter precipitation to combat, because it can freeze instantly and it doesn’t need to be the whole pavement for vehicles crossing it to have problems,” Blaum said.
PennDOT had nearly 150 trucks out treating roadways before daybreak, when it became clear that conditions would be slippery, Blaum said.
Emergency dispatchers reported more than 80 calls for ice-related crashes in Northampton County, 100 in Lehigh County, 100 in Bucks County — some involving emergency vehicles —and more than 75 in Montgomery County.
Kaitlyn Maier, of Philadelphia, said she came upon the I-76 accident moments after it happened as she was driving with her boyfriend to her niece’s baptism, which she missed.
“Ten minutes before I was asking him, what is this? Rain, or what?” said Maier, who said she was 10 to 15 cars behind the wreck and saw smoke pouring from one vehicle. The line of crashed cars extended around a bend in front of her.
Maier said emergency responders directed her and other drivers to turn around on the highway and drive eastbound on the westbound side to the next exit.
Within the next several minutes, Maier saw two cars collide and two other accidents that had just happened. They decided to stop at a diner to wait until the roads cleared.
“I’ve driven through snow a lot, and this isn’t like anything I’ve ever driven in,” said Maier, who was raised in upstate New York. “We were stopped for a while on the side of the road. I was going less than 10 mph, but I had no control of my vehicle.”
The Delaware River Port Authority closed bridges linking Philadelphia and New Jersey during the morning while workers put down salt, but began reopening lanes by midmorning.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike closed between Morgantown and the Delaware River Bridge but reopened at noon with speed limits reduced to 45 mph.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority canceled early bus service in Philadelphia but resumed service late in the morning.
Philadelphia International Airport reported some cancellations due to conditions.
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