ETNA, Maine (AP) — More than 70 vehicles got tangled up in a series of chain-reaction pileups Wednesday along a snowy stretch of Interstate 95 in Maine, injuring at least 17 people, state police said.
The pileups in Etna, near Bangor, happened at about 7:30 a.m. and involved several cars, a school bus and a tractor-trailer, state police spokesman Steve McCausland said. He said some of the injuries were serious.
Emergency personnel climbed on top of cars to reach motorists stuck in the middle of the jumble of vehicles. McCausland said one veteran trooper described the site as a “giant pile of metal.”
State police said the crash was the biggest in Maine in more than 15 years.
Rhonda Kent, an occupational therapist from Saint Albans, said her car was sideswiped amid the pileup, which sent cars and trucks spinning. Kent, who was not injured, said a logging truck came dangerously close to hitting her and spun off into a ditch.
“It was almost surreal, something you see in the movies,” Kent said.
Both northbound lanes on a 30-mile stretch of highway were closed for five hours, and drivers were told to take other exits to avoid the area. One northbound lane reopened around 12:30 p.m.; the other opened several hours later.
Two hospitals reported taking in 17 patients, some in serious condition. One person at the scene of the crash had a heart attack and some people suffered broken bones, police said. Two students and two adults on the bus were shaken up but not injured.
Police said the main crash involved more than 25 vehicles, and there were a series of other wrecks leading up to the crash site. Some of the crashes involved two or three vehicles, and then other vehicles went off the road to avoid hitting them.
State Police Lt. Sean Hashey said he was “absolutely shocked that we don’t have any fatalities.”
He said the crashes were likely the result of poor visibility, slippery roads and speed but cautioned that reconstructing exactly how the events unfolded could be impossible.
“We’ll never know exactly who hit who,” Hashey said. “It was just such a mess of vehicles.”
At a travel stop in nearby Newburgh, people involved in the crash gathered to give statements to police and wait to see their wrecked vehicles. Some were keeping warm in a parked school bus. Workers at the truck stop reported seeing more than a dozen ambulances try to access the highway from a nearby ramp.
Rose Butts, a hotel housekeeper from Plymouth, said she swerved to miss part of the accident and hit a snow bank. She and a friend were not injured but waited in her car for five hours for help.
“We’re thankful that we’re both alive and both OK,” she said.
Dylan Carroll, a Plymouth auto mechanic, said he swerved and hit a snow bank before a garbage truck spun out, tapped his car and blocked him. He was not injured.
“I thought it was going to be much worse than it was,” Carroll said.
There was at least an inch of snow on the ground at the time of the crash, according to the National Weather Service. Snow was forecast to fall throughout the day with total accumulations of 5 to 9 inches.