PHILADELPHIA (AP) — “Flash-freezing” led to a pileup involving more than 20 cars on a major interstate outside Philadelphia on Sunday, a transportation department spokesman said.
All lanes of Interstate 76 were closed west of Philadelphia after a series of cars slammed into one another amid freezing rain around 6:30 a.m., PennDOT spokesman Eugene Blaum said. The extent of any injuries was not immediately clear.
Slick roads caused a number of crashes, including collisions that also closed parts of Interstates 95 and 476 in and around Philadelphia. The Delaware River Port Authority closed bridges linking Philadelphia and New Jersey for a time during the morning while workers put down salt, but began reopening lanes by midmorning.
Blaum called travel conditions “very hazardous.”
“The most difficult part about this is that a flash freeze like this, the moisture can freeze on contact with the pavement,” he said.
The I-76 crash was one of more than a dozen reported on roads around the region on Sunday morning, some causing closures while others just blocked lanes.
Blaum said temperature and precipitation conditions were perfect in some spots to create a serious problem: a sheet of ice caused by light rain falling on cold surfaces.
Kaitlyn Maier, of Philadelphia, said she came upon the I-76 accident moments after it happened as she was driving with her boyfriend to her niece’s baptism, which she missed.
“Ten minutes before I was asking him, what is this? Rain, or what?” said Maier, who said she was 10 to 15 cars behind the wreck and saw smoke pouring from one vehicle. The line of crashed cars extended around a bend in front of her.
Maier said emergency responders directed her and other drivers to turn around on the highway and drive eastbound on the westbound side to the next exit.
Within the next several minutes, Maier saw two cars collide and two other accidents that had just happened. They decided to stop at a diner to wait until the roads cleared.
“I’ve driven through snow a lot, and this isn’t like anything I’ve ever driven in,” said Maier, who was raised in upstate New York. “We were stopped for a while on the side of the road. I was going less than 10 mph, but I had no control of my vehicle.”
PennDOT had nearly 150 trucks out treating roadways before daybreak, when it became clear that conditions would be slippery, Blaum said. A freezing rain advisory was in effect in the area through 10 a.m. but temperatures were forecast to rise into the 40s later Sunday.
The freezing rain also turned roadways in New Jersey hazardous, with spinouts and accidents along major arteries including the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. Speeds were restricted to 35 mph, and parts of the roadways were closed as accidents piled up.
Cars inched along on local roads, where braking at stoplights meant unexpected swerves as drivers tried to get traction on slippery surfaces. In New York City and its northern suburbs, the hazardous conditions forced sections of roads to close all over the area.