USA — A major north-south highway in northern Florida was littered with the burned-out hulks of nearly a dozen cars and trucks on Sunday after heavy fog and smoke from a nearby wildfire caused a series of pileups that killed 10 and put 18 in the hospital.
Authorities have not released a timeline for the crashes, but some of them occurred on Interstate 17 near Gainesville at around 3:45 a.m., The Associated Press reported.
At least four or five large commercial trucks – including one FedEx truck – and six passenger cars were involved in the accidents, which left a mile stretch of the freeway strewn with wreckage, authorities said.
Several of the vehicles were charred and badly crumpled.
In one case, a pickup truck had landed on top of the hood of a car, and both vehicles plowed into the back of the FedEx trailer, the Gainesville Sun reported.
Darkness, heavy fog and dense smoke from a wildfire at the nearby Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park forced state troopers to close the road overnight, but it was later reopened when visibility improved, state police said.
Florida forestry authorities said Sunday that they were investigating whether the fires were intentionally set.
Survivor Donna Henry told the Sun she was driving south on I-75 at around 3:45 a.m. when her Toyota Camry suddenly hit a wall of blinding smoke.
“We just hit it, and you couldn’t see anything,” she told the newspaper.
After hitting a guard rail, Henry managed to pull to the side of the road, where she heard the sickening crunch of cars colliding, over and over again.
“We were on the phone with 911,” she said. “You heard like 15 times somebody hit, from this side and that, north and south. It was bad.”
The injured victims were being treated at Shands at the University of Florida Hospital, according to the hospital’s website.
Six of the victims were seriously injured and being treated at the hospital’s trauma center, while 12 others were being treated in the emergency department, the hospital said.
Alachua County Sheriff’s officials said the chaotic scene was the worst they’d seen in decades.
“That’s a very scary thing when you can’t see anything and hear the squealing of tires and don’t know if 2,000 pounds of metal is coming at you,” Alachua County Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Kelly told the Sun.
There were also crashes on U.S. 441, though it was unclear if anyone was injured or killed, authorities said.
Both roads were closed early Sunday.
By 11 a.m., U.S. 441 was reopened, but I-75 was still closed.