Almost all lanes have been reopened on the Schuylkill Expressway after a deadly crash combined with heavy rains and the darkness of early morning caused traffic troubles that kept it backed up most of the day.
A multi-vehicle crash completely closed the westbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway (Interstate-76) between Montgomery Drive and U.S. Route 1 for hours on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Pennsylvania State Police said 47-year-old Handy Gunawan died in the pileup and at least six others -- including a man in his 60s and a woman in her 20s -- were transported from the scene with undisclosed injuries.
State police said a black Audi sedan was traveling west on I-76 around 4:30 a.m. when it hit a large pool of standing water and spun out of control, striking the concrete barrier. A white minivan with seven people inside slammed on its breaks in an effort to avoid hitting the Audi, however the tractor trailer behind the van was unable to stop in time. The big rig struck the back of the minivan causing it to hit the Audi, according to police. Gunawan, a passenger in the van, was pronounced dead at the scene, state police said.
Earlier, crews closed all lanes eastbound due to flooding. Originally around 2:30 a.m. crews just closed a couple lanes but as the heavy rain came down they eventually closed all lanes by 4:30 a.m. The road remained closed as debris floated along the flooded highway and crews worked to clear the crash site
Prior to the crash, some NBC10 employees including reporter Monique Braxton and this writer were suddenly surprised by extremely deep water on the eastbound lanes approaching the left-hand City Avenue exit.
"It was like a wall of water hit our truck," said Braxton.
More than 1 inch of rain fell on the crash area overnight, according to NBC10 First Alert Weather meteorologist Bill Henley.
Around 5:45 a.m. one lane began getting by eastbound and around 7:30 a.m. a lane opened in the westbound direction briefly to allow stuck traffic to clear out but the roadway remained closed for another hour until two lanes began getting by.
Crews had to clear sewer grates before pushing debris off the roadway. By 11 a.m. large vacuums were brought in to suck up the standing water.
Around 9:45 a.m., crews finally cleared the heavily-damaged SUV from the roadway.
Gridlock remained as traffic filtered onto many surrounding roadways and interchanges. Late Wednesday afternoon, PennDOT officials announced that I-76 West reopened to four lanes while I-76 East opened to three lanes. The eastbound right lane will remain closed overnight so that storm water can continue to be pumped from the highway. The lane is expected to reopen early Thursday morning.
This wasn't the only accident on I-76. Earlier, the 26th Street tunnel on 76 was also closed after a cab got stuck in floodwater then later in the morning a car crashed westbound just before the Conshohocken Exit.
The traffic mess also included a crash that closed Interstate-95 just past the Scudder Falls Bridge. A tractor-trailer wrecked in that area before 4 a.m. closing the roadway up to Route 1 for nearly two hours.
A car also spun out around 4:30 a.m. on the westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike just past the Bensalem Exit. The crash caused at least one lane to be closed.