At least seven people were killed and another 25 were hurt in a sequence of crashes on Interstate 55 near New Orleans the day before that were brought on by a “superfog” of smoke from a marsh fire and deep fog.
Crews worked into Tuesday morning to clean up the wreckage of more than 150 vehicles. Several local schools were forced to suspend or delay classes on Tuesday morning due to hazardous driving conditions as tow trucks continued to remove debris off the freeway.
The Louisiana State Police said 158 automobiles were involved, and 25 people were hurt. They issued a warning Monday night that as first responders searched for victims and the smell of burned debris was still strongly present in the air, the death toll may rise.
Before 9 a.m., the crashes started. Sgt. Kate Stegall of the Louisiana State Police said there were numerous collisions over a one-mile stretch of the highway on Monday. According to Stegall, the route was anticipated to be blocked at least until Tuesday morning, when the bridge could be checked for damage.
Long stretches of vehicles, trucks, and tractor-trailers were badly damaged and burned by the collisions. Vehicles were burned, smashed, and stacked on top of one another. While others screamed for help, other people got out of their cars and stood by the side of the road or on the roofs of their vehicles to stare in shock at the catastrophe.
When Clarencia Patterson Reed, 46, and her wife and niece were traveling to Manchac, she observed people waving for her to stop. However, after she did, two more cars struck her car from the side and the back. Patterson Reed was able to get out of the car on her side, but her wife was trapped inside with a broken side and a damaged leg. She claimed that other people intervened to provide assistance.
“I just thank God,” she murmured. A few cars ahead of us, there was a casualty. Patterson Reed could see the row of totaled vehicles and hear more collisions happening. It was a boom.
All you could hear was crashing, not a boom, said Patterson Reed to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Christopher Coll, another motorist, claimed that as he was braking, a pickup truck “drove up on top of my work trailer and took me for a ride.”
Coll heard the sounds of slamming cars and popping tires, and he could smell burning. He was able to escape by kicking open his passenger door, and he later assisted others by pushing one guy out of a car window.
Authorities claimed that while 25 individuals were sent to the hospital with injuries ranging from mild to critical, others sought out medical attention on their own. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana requested prayers on Monday “for those hurt and killed” and issued a request for blood donations to replace depleting supplies.
The elevated expressway, which travels above swamps and open water between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas, has crashed cars on both its northbound and southbound lanes, according to overhead pictures posted by the Louisiana State Police on their Facebook page. On I-55, there was a mile-long backup of traffic in both directions.
Parts of Interstate 10 and the 24-mile (39-kilometer) Lake Pontchartrain Causeway were occasionally closed as a result of the poor visibility.
To carry stranded drivers away from the scene of the accidents, school buses were called. State police reported to reporters at the site at noon that although one vehicle crossed the highway guardrail and sank into the water, the driver was unharmed.
State troopers continued to “notify families and investigate the precise causes of the crashes” as of Monday afternoon, according to Louisiana State Police.
The last batch of vehicles was being removed by Tuesday morning, and surface cleanup work will then start, according to the authorities.
The area will stay blocked while the bridge is being inspected, according to the state police and the state’s transportation agency.
For parishes around the lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, the National Weather Service issued a strong fog advisory that would be in effect until Tuesday morning.