Two people were killed, and more than a dozen were injured, in chain-reaction crashes involving approximately 40 vehicles on both sides of a snowy West Virginia interstate Wednesday morning.
Interstate 81 near between Spring Mills and Falling Waters was experiencing white-out conditions from a quickly moving snow squall at the time of two separate, serious crashes, WHAG first reported.
The pile-up accidents began in the northbound lanes around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, and spread out into the southbound lanes as more drivers began to brake and skid, said 1st Sergeant Chris Zerkle of West Virginia State Police.
Two people were killed in the pile-up crashes, Zerkle confirmed to NBC Washington. Another 14 were taken to area hospitals, including some who were airlifted. A few of the patients were in serious but stable condition, Zerkle said.
"It was white-out conditions, and from what the preliminary investigation indicates, the people were driving at normal speed and [the weather] got so bad so quick," he said. "It was a chain reaction, basically."
The crashes happened between milemarkers 21 and 24, said Carrie Bly of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
Between 35 and 45 vehicles were involved, and 15 to 20 sustained damage so serious they need to be towed or otherwise physically removed from the interstate.
"It was weather-related for sure," Zerkle said. "It was so hectic there at one time we had every police officer in the area [responding]."
Police had to call in off-duty officers, and so many people were using cell phones at the chaotic scene that the nearby cellphone towers couldn't cope with demand, leading to communication difficulties among the officers.
All lanes of Interstate 81 in the area of the crashes were shut down for several hours.
The southbound lanes reopened during the afternoon, but traffic remained slow as of 4 p.m. Only one northbound lane had reopened as of that time.