FREDERICKSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A massive pile-up on Interstate 78 involving at least 56 cars shut down the highway in Lebanon County for most of the day Saturday.
At least three people died in the wreck and dozens more were hurt, several of them seriously.
Tow companies and emergency responders made progress clearing the huge pile of twisted metal throughout the afternoon and evening, but the sheer number of vehicles involved meant both eastbound and westbound lanes were closed for hours.
Howling winds brought wind chills close to zero as crews worked tirelessly to work through the wreckage.
“Back a few miles, I mean, there was nothing, and all it was was dry road and decent weather,” said Darryl Deemer, who was driving westbound on I-78 from eastern Pennsylvania.
He said wind and sudden snow threw drivers into white-out conditions around 9:45 Saturday morning.
“Nothing but heavy, heavy snow,” he said. “When this whole thing went down, we couldn’t even see what happened in front of us. It took until actually the sun came out, and that’s when we could actually see all that up there. And it’s just a bunch of mangled metal.”
He managed to stop in time and offered his warm car to two teenagers who didn’t. He sat on the side of the road for at least two hours with the girls while they waited for a tow and for a ride.
They weren’t caught in the middle of the pile-up, but emotions ran high when mom showed up.
At least 56 cars and tractor trailers slammed into one another, most saddled in the median between east and westbound lanes.
“You couldn’t see anything,” said truck driver Juanita Barron. “The snow, all of sudden, it started blowing really hard and you couldn’t see anything.”
Barron stopped her 22,000-pound cargo short of the pile. Her big rig skidded into the media a few hundred feet back. She ended up as one of the dozens needing a tow.
“You never think you’re not going to stop,” said Barron, of Jacksonville, Fla. “You never think you’re not going to be OK.”
Helicopters and ambulances took dozens to local hospitals, some in bad shape.
A passing trucker did his best to help.
“We tried to take a person out of the car, he’s still alive. We saved that one,” Eduardo Papoila said. “But his friend next to him, he already passed away.”
Papoila, a truck driver out of Massachusetts, opened up his trailer and invited people in to warm up. Others passed out blankets to the drivers and passengers stuck on the side of the interstate in the bitter cold.
As responders made progress, the Salvation Army kept them fueled up with an emergency services truck through a long day and the promise of a long night.
Accident reconstruction teams worked all day to figure out just what happened. State police expected the interstate to remain closed until midnight.
One trooper said it was the worst wreck he’s seen in 25 years on the job.
Pennsylvania State Police said the eastbound side of Interstate 78 reopened shortly after 5 Sunday morning.