Massive pileup near Ga.-Tenn. line kills 4
Up to 125 vehicles involved, including 20 tractor-trailers
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (CNN) -- About 125 vehicles, including 20 tractor-trailers, smashed into each other in thick fog that cut visibility to less than a car length on Interstate 75 south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Thursday morning, killing at least four people, injuring at least 39 and backing up traffic for miles in each direction.
Crunched vehicles were packed tightly against each other, with most of them on the northbound side of the roadway.
Georgia's Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said four people were confirmed dead, but more victims could still be trapped in mangled vehicles. All of the fatalities, he said, were in the northbound lanes.
Officials have revised the death toll down from a high of 10.
Summers said 15 people suffered major injuries, 16 had minor injuries and eight were classified as having "walking" injuries.
Witnesses said the chain-reaction crash began when a tractor-trailer heading north toward Chattanooga drove into a wall of fog and slammed into the back of another tractor-trailer. One of those trucks crossed the median into the southbound lanes, spreading the wreckage across all lanes of the main connection between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Between 100 and 125 vehicles -- 20 of them tractor-trailers -- were involved in the accident in Catoosa County near Ringgold, Georgia, said Georgia State Patrol Chief Mary Jones.
A Georgia Highway Patrol spokeswoman said visibility in the area was 10 to 15 feet at the time of the accident, which happened between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., and that the fog lifted about an hour later, giving emergency crews their first look at the extent of the damage.
The highway patrol spokeswoman said that state authorities were on a skeleton crew because many officers are at a state training center in the middle of the state. She said off-duty officers are coming to the scene, as well as officers assigned to the crematory case in Noble, Georgia.
Nineteen adults and a child were taken to Erlanger Hospital, a Level-1 trauma center in Chattanooga 15 miles from the accident site. Thirteen of the adults were being treated for major injuries and six of them for minor injuries, said hospital spokeswoman Sharon Cahill. The child's condition had not been determined.
Eight people were taken to Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, three of them with major injuries, said hospital spokeswoman Toni Tenters. Five victims were taken to Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, spokeswoman Robin Payne said. One was listed in critical condition.
Three victims were taken to Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Georgia, where hospital spokesman Keith Jennings said they were in fair condition.
The Georgia Department of Transportation said that both north- and southbound lanes on the interstate were shut down between exits 348 and 350. Northbound traffic was being routed to State Route 151 at exit 348 and then onto State Route 3 or US 41. Northbound traffic rejoined I-75 in East Ridge, Tennessee.
Southbound traffic was routed onto State Route 2 and exit 350, then onto State Route 3 and U.S. 41 before rejoining the interstate at exit 348. Summers said the southband lanes may re-open in the early afternoon Thursday.
A similar fog-related crash on Interstate 75 more than a decade ago involved 99 vehicles near Calhoun, Tennessee. Just after 9 a.m. on December 11, 1990, a southbound tractor-trailer rear-ended another tractor-trailer in heavy fog 40 miles north of Chattanooga near the Hiwassee River. While the two uninjured drivers checked the damage, an automobile rear-ended the second truck and a third truck rear-ended the car. Fire consumed the car and two of the trucks.
Meanwhile, vehicles in the northbound lanes slowed because of the fires, and a chain-reaction accident began there, eventually closing both north- and southbound lanes of the interstate, claiming 12 lives and injuring 42.
That accident prompted officials to put in place an extensive fog warning system recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board and better markings on the roadway itself.
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