Fog and smoke from a brush-fire was so thick early Monday morning that responders had to listen for screams to find the injured victims of a massive pile up collision on a Florida Interstate just south of Gainesville. Later in the morning, when the smoke and fog had cleared, it became apparent that that the tragic event left ten dead. Another 18 were hospitalized.
Fog and smoke made visibility nil
The collision occurred about 3:45 a.m. on a stretch of Interstate 75 amidst thick fog, made even more dense by smoke from adjoining brush-fires. The pileup collision involved 12 cars and at least six tractor-trailer rigs and one motor home. Several vehicle fires ensued, making rescue efforts even harder.
Fire may have been set
All six traffic lanes remain closed as investigators work to ascertain the cause of the collision. There is also speculation that the brush fires may have been intentionally set. Authorities say there were no controlled burns or lightning strikes in the area.
The investigation into the events is being led by the Florida Highway Patrol. According to reports, the National Traffic Safety Board is considering formally joining the probe.
CNN reported seeing bodies inside of cars, a semi truck burned to a metal skeleton, and the tires on every vehicle burned off, leaving only blackened steel belts.
An eyewitness account
Steven R. Camps of Gainesville, a survivor of the tragic accident, said:
“You could hear cars hitting each other. People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy. If I could give you an idea of what it looked like, I would say it looked like the end of the world.”
Camps, a passenger in his friend’s car, said they came to a stop at the fog bank. He said he was discussing the road conditions with another motorist who was parked next to them. That motorist was struck from behind and smashed under a truck in front of him. “We saw that guy die,” Camps said, before their own car was struck twice and wedged between two semis.
Camps was uninjured, but his friend could “barely even move.” Camps managed to get his friend out and both of them took refuge in the brush at the side of the road.
“It was happening on both sides of the road, so there was nowhere to go. It blew my mind… [It] looked like someone was picking up cars and throwing them.”
Victims remain as yet unnamed
The names of the victims has not yet been released. Authorities say that one “tour bus-like” vehicle contained four fatalities.
Highway had been closed earlier
Florida authorities say that the stretch of I-75 had been closed the night before because of the dense smoke and fog. However, it had been reopened when it was determined that visibility had sufficiently cleared. Authorities say they are uncertain as to how soon the highway was reopened before the tragic pileup accident occurred.