A dense “superfog” in Louisiana caused one massive multi-car pile-up and dozens of other crashes that killed at least seven motorists and injured scores of others.
Officials say that the accident on I-55 near New Orleans on Monday morning occurred when fog and smoke from marsh fires burning in the area dangerously lowered visibility.
Louisiana State Police said the fog caused a crash of more than 158 vehicles on a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, and warned the death toll could climb as emergency services comb through the wreckage.
The crash caused a portion of the road to catch fire and destroyed a tanker truck carrying “hazardous liquid”, police said. Twenty-five people were taken to hospital.
At least one vehicle went over the edge and lay sideways in the water, pictures posted by the Louisiana State Police showed.
The crash was one of several accidents in the area due to heavy fog, police said.
St John Sheriff Mike Tregre said that there was a total of 25 crashes on the road, involving three 18-wheel trucks, of which two were engulfed in flames.
“The tractor that pulls the tank is damaged, so they’re gonna have to offload the chemical from that one to a backup tanker which they’ll have to bring to the site,” said Department of Environmental Quality Press Secretary Greg Langley.
Police warned that a long stretch of the interstate, which is a 24-mile elevated highway over the state’s Lake Pontchartrain, could be closed “for the foreseeable future.”
Officials say that around 100 people were stranded on the roadway and that officers had to run along it to reach crash sites.
“I’ve never seen a crash like this. I mean I’ve traveled south Louisiana for quite some time and I’ve seen fog, but the pocket of fog we saw coming over the Manchac bridge... it was like something you’d see in the Central Valley of California. It was total fog. Couldn’t see in front of you,” driver Lance Scott told WVUE.
The National Weather Service issued a dense fog advisory for much of southeastern Louisiana on Monday morning, including from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
“The combination of wildfire smoke and dense fog is dangerous, and I want to encourage all Louisianans in affected areas to take extreme caution when traveling,” Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement.
The Governor also urged people to donate blood to “help replenish supplies that are being drained today to care for the wounded.”
Troopers are notifying families and investigating the exact causes of the crashes.