Six dead in 133-car pileup in Fort Worth in Texas, US, after freezing rain coats roads
At least six people died and dozens were taken to hospitals after an accident involving more than 100 vehicles on a Fort Worth interstate in Texas, US, on Thursday, 11 February 2021, a pileup that was the most staggering of the crashes that dotted ice-slicked roads across Dallas-Fort Worth. Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis said the crash in the southbound TEXPress lanes of Interstate 35W just north of downtown, two toll lanes between two concrete barriers, was reported shortly after 06h00am. Officials said 133 vehicles were involved and the crash spanned a half-mile. When emergency vehicles arrived, the accident scene was still expanding, Chief Davis said. Over the course of several hours, there were 26 fire department vehicles, 80 police cars and 13 ambulances on the scene.
At least six people died as a result of the pileup. A total of 65 people had been treated at area hospitals for injuries related to the crash but that number was expected to rise as more people sought help, MedStar spokesman, Matt Zavadsky, said. None were paediatric patients. Zavadsky said a large number of people who were involved in the accident were health care workers who were wearing scrubs and hospital badges. “Typically shift change for the hospitals and places downtown [is] going to be 7 o’clock,” he said. “So we did see a lot of people that were health care workers that were a part of this crash.”
Four Fort Worth police officers were hospitalised, Chief Neil Noakes said. Three had been on their way to work, and one was injured while helping at the scene. All four were released from the hospital. A video posted on Twitter by North Texas storm chaser Jason McLaughlin showed dozens of vehicles piled up. Several vehicles were crushed and at least three semitrailers were involved.
One vehicle appeared to be pinned under a large pickup and another badly damaged vehicle appeared to have been stuck beneath an 18-wheeler.
McLaughlin described the chaos. “It looks like a couple of vehicles lost control and when that happened, everything just piled up behind them,” he said.
Pictures posted by the Fort Worth Fire Department showed vehicles, including trucks and 18-wheelers, piled atop one another. In one photo, a dog that had been rescued was being passed from one fire fighter to another.
The crash closed all northbound lanes of I-35W, including toll lanes, with traffic backed up in both directions from Interstate 30 to Interstate 820, Fort Worth police said.
By about 10:30 a.m., Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Michael Drivdahl said, most people involved in the pileup had gotten out of or been pulled from their vehicles. But many vehicles remained to be removed from the highway.
“We are going to have to go through and search vehicle by vehicle,” he said.
After the initial search was complete, firefighters turned over the scene to Fort Worth police to let them investigate and recover people who could not be rescued right away or who died at the scene, Davis said.
Zavadsky, the MedStar spokesman, said first responders were able to see and treat numerous people within the first hour to hour and a half.
Because of the scale of the accident, Zavadsky said the process of untangling the cars will take days.
“This is the beginning of what’s likely to be a very long weather weekend for us here in North Texas, and it is really important that people not go out and drive if they don’t have to,” he said. “That will help with the car crash scenario; it will also help with hypothermia calls and keep everybody safe.”
Lawmakers asking questions
State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. and state Sen. Beverly Powell, both Fort Worth Democrats, took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon after hearing reports that the stretch of interstate the crash occurred on had not been salted or sanded before the crash.
“My office is asking many questions and demanding answers,” Romero said. “We have already had multiple discussions about this tollway’s bottleneck design and lack of commonsense safety measures such as a shoulder.”
The lawmakers said their offices were investigating and asking the Texas Department of Transportation about the allegations.
A crumbled car was towed as emergency crews worked to clear the crash on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth on Thursday.
“This tragedy deserves an immediate and thorough investigation,” Romero tweeted. “This inclement weather was foreseeable and lives were lost because a private company didn’t uphold its end of the deal.”
TxDOT did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawmakers’ concerns, but in a written statement the agency said it was committed to driver safety and proactively treats roads before all major winter weather.
Robert Hinkle — a spokesman for North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, a consortium of companies that built and maintains the TEXPress lanes — said in a written statement that it was also actively working to keep ice off the roads.
“Maintenance crews started pre-treating our corridors on Tuesday and have been spot treating since then,” he said. “Our crews are now assisting emergency responders to manage the accident scene on 35W and will continue treating the highways through the weekend and into next week.”
Noakes, the police chief, said investigators will be looking into the reports that the roadway had not been treated to help prevent icing.
‘An incredibly difficult day’
The scene of the crash was split into sections for extrication, treatment and transportation, said Davis, the fire chief.
Fort Worth police set up a site at a nearby community center for families to pick up drivers and passengers who had been stranded.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price expressed concern for all the people who had been affected by the crash.
“This is an incredibly difficult day for the city of Fort Worth,” Price said at a news conference. “My heart is broken for this community as we deal with the tragic loss of so many lives and so many injuries and a scene like none of us have ever seen before.”
Officer Jimmy Pollozani, a police spokesman, said first responders were doing everything they could to accommodate people who had been affected by the pileup, adding that he drove someone who had been left stranded to work at the Veterans Affairs office.
“This is a very traumatic event for everyone involved, from the first responders to the people in the wreck to the survivors,” he said. “All we ask is that all of the city of Fort Worth come together and pray for these families during such a traumatic event.”
Counselors and chaplains were on hand to comfort families, Pollozani said.