Smoke from a brush fire combined with fog blinded motorists and caused a long line of trucks and cars to collide one after another early Sunday morning on Interstate 75 south of Gainsville, FL, killing at least 10.
The visibility was so poor when rescuers arrived that they could only listen for screams and moans to find victims in wreckage that was strewn for nearly a mile, police said, per a Huffington Post report.
At least six semis and a dozen cars were involved and some cars were crushed underneath the big rigs. Twisted, burned-out vehicles were scattered across the pavement, with smoke still rising from the wreckage, which Huffington Post described as reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie.
"You could hear cars hitting each other. People were crying. People were screaming. It was crazy," said Steven R. Camps of Gainesville, who was involved in the accident. "If I could give you an idea of what it looked like, I would say it looked like the end of the world."
One tractor-trailer was burned down to its skeleton and bodies were still visible inside a burned-out Grand Prix, according to reporters at the scene. The tires of many vehicles had burned away, leaving only steel belts.
At least 10 people were killed — including the driver and passengers in a single vehicle and occupants of a tour bus-type vehicle — and at least 18 others were injured.
All six lanes of the interstate, a major north-south route that runs the length of Florida, were closed most of Sunday as investigators surveyed the site and firefighters put out the last of the flames.
Police had briefly closed the highway at some point before the crash because of the fog and smoke, according to Lt. Patrick Riordan, Florida Highway Patrol spokesman. However, the road was reopened when visibility apparently improved temporarily. Riordan told Huffington Post he was not sure how much time elapsed between the reopening of the highway and the first crash.
According to Ludie Bond, spokeswoman for the Florida Forest Service, the brush fire began Saturday, and investigators were trying to determine whether the blaze had been intentionally set. There were no controlled burns in the area and no lightning, she said.
In January 2008, four persons were killed and 38 injured in a series of similar crashes on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa. More than 70 vehicles were involved in those crashes, including one pileup that involved 40 vehicles.