GALESBURG (WWJ/AP) — After a devastating, fatal 193 car pileup on Friday, I-94 in the area between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo has reopened for traffic in both directions.
MDOT has inspected the roadway and determined it safe for traffic, though eastbound I-94 at the 90 mile marker suffered minor pitting in the cement from the vehicle fires. While the highway is open, the pitting in the roadway will cause the surface to be rough and signs will be posted to advise approaching traffic.
A truck carrying fireworks caught fire, triggering a spectacular explosion of the cargo. A 57-year-old truck driver from Ottawa, Canada, was killed and about two dozen people were taken to hospitals — including two firefighters who were injured while attempting to extinguish fires from vehicles.
Nick Schrippa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, tried to describe the scene at its most hectic point.
“It is not really possible to put it into words,” Schrippa said. “When you see a pile of vehicles — jackknifed semis, cars that are burned to unrecognizable hulks of metal — it’s hard to explain. It was gut-wrenching, it’s not something you ever want to see anywhere.”
The extensive cleanup process took nearly 48 hours since the crash began on Friday morning. State police now say there were 193, including dozens of semis.
The process consisted of towing away wrecked vehicles, cleaning up an acid spill and pavement work. Equipment problems related to cold weather were affecting the acid cleanup, said First Lt. James Coleman of the Michigan State Police.
“We had to do repairs on about 300 feet of eastbound, right around the point at which the fire occurred and the tanker was leaking acid,” Schrippa said.
In a release, Michigan State Police urged drivers to take extra precaution while driving in whiteout conditions.
“Response to this event required a massive coordinated effort between state, local, and private entities. All response partners will be meeting in the very near future to debrief this incident, develop an after-action report, and compile lessons learned to better serve the community.
We cannot stress enough for people to drive with caution as they travel on winter roadways. Slower speeds and more distance is needed to respond to situations that may occur in front of drivers. Please drive careful and arrive safely at your destination.”
Schrippa wants to use this accident as an example of why safe driving is so important, especially in the winter.
“I got a little angry watching people who were clearly not driving at appropriate speeds for what were — at the time — whiteout conditions,” Schrippa said. “Clearly I-94 was snow and ice-covered, it was a whiteout. It looked like people were still going 45, 50, 55 mile per hour. That angered me that so many people would make that kind of decision.”
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