DALLAS (AP) — At least five people were killed and dozens injured Thursday in a massive crash involving 75 to 100 vehicles on an icy Texas interstate, police said, as a winter storm dropped freezing rain, sleet and snow on parts of the U.S.
At the scene of the crash on Interstate 35 near downtown Fort Worth, a tangle of semitrailers, cars and trucks had crashed into each other and had turned every which way, with some vehicles on top of others.
“The vehicles are just mangled,” said Matt Zavadsky, spokesman for MedStar, which provides the ambulance service for the area. “Multiple tow trucks are on scene. It’s going to take a lot to disentangle this wreck.”
Thirty-six people were taken to hospitals from the crash, several with critical injuries, Zavadsky said. Police set up a reunification center for family members at a community center.
“The roadway was so treacherous from the ice that several of the first responders were falling on the scene,” Zavadsky said.
He said his crews carry a sand and salt mixture in the ambulances, which they began using at the scene. At one point, he said, one of the ambulances was hit, but it sustained only minor damage and the crew members were fine.
Farther south, in suburban Austin, more than two dozen vehicles were involved in a pileup on an icy highway, and five people were taken to a hospital, emergency officials said.
The storm came as a polar vortex — swirling air that normally sits over the Earth’s poles — has moved near the U.S.-Canada border, resulting in colder weather farther south than usual, said Steve Goss, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“As a result we’re getting unusually or unseasonably cold air that’s spilling south across a good portion of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains,” he said.
In Tennessee, police responded to about 30 traffic collisions and some flights were delayed at Memphis International Airport after freezing rain and sleet fell. In Kentucky, the governor declared a state of emergency to free up funding and help agencies coordinate as they responded to reports of slick roads and downed power lines. And in southern Indiana, schools and government offices closed.
Goss said that smaller disturbances moving through the polar jet stream will bring “a shot of winter weather” into southern portions of the country.
He said some areas that don’t normally get snowfall will likely see heavy amounts over the next several days. He said current estimates show some areas of the Southern Plains could get a foot or more.