FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — A pileup involving more than 130 vehicles along Interstate-35W in Fort Worth shut down the highway Thursday and left multiple people trapped in their vehicles.
During an update Thursday afternoon, officials in Fort Worth confirmed at least six people, who have not been publicly identified, were killed in the crash.
Officials said at least 36 people were transported to hospitals and that a total of 65 people sought medical attention from the crash.
The pileup that involved a total of 133 vehicles, according to officials, happened around 6:30 a.m. after freezing rain and sleet fell overnight and into the morning, leaving roadways across North Texas wet and slick.
North Tarrant Express, which covers the area of the crash, told CBS 11 News they pretreated the road on Tuesday.
All lanes of the interstate -- starting near the 28th Street bridge, not far from downtown -- were closed because of the accident that police say was due to weather.
Pictures and video from CBS 11 News crews at the scene show dozens of vehicles and dozens of 18-wheelers -- some hauling cars and trucks -- smashed, toppled over and stacked on top of each other.
First responders called the crash a "mass casualty incident." Rescuers had difficulty reaching some victims because of the pileup and the blocked roadway.
"First responders actually had difficulty getting to the vehicles," Fort Worth Fire spokesperson Mike Drivdahl said earlier in the morning. "As they were making their way on the freeway to get to those vehicles it is very slippery. We did have to get quite a bit of sand out here... we did everything we could to get as much traction as possible."
Multiple ambulances were dispatched to the scene. Officials with MedStar Mobile Healthcare confirmed 14 ambulances were used to transport the 36 people to area hospitals. The seriously injured were transported to trauma centers.
During the afternoon update, Matt Zavadsky of MedStar said all the patients were adults, possibly due to the time of day.
"All of the victims we assessed on scene were adults. One of the things that was fortunate was the time of day, people typically were commuting to work and thankfully all the people assessed, treated, transported, there were no pediatric patients at all," Zavadsky said.
Police said four officers -- three on their way to work and one working the incident -- were injured in the pileup. They were treated and released, according to Chief Neil Noakes.
Police are advising anyone involved in the crash, who only has minor damage to their vehicle and is not injured, to please exchange information and continue safely off the interstate. Those people should notify their insurance companies once they arrive at their destination.
For anyone trying to find a friend or loved one, police have set up a 'family reunification' center for people to meet and possibly pickup drivers and passengers involved in the pileup. Those trying to get to the crash site are advised to go to the Riverside Community Center, located at 3700 East Belknap.
Police say it will take hours and hours to clear the scene. "It's gonna be a long time. We're gonna have to separate a lot of these vehicles with wreckers."
One of the drivers of a tractor-trailer, Michael Howard, told CBS 11 News he saw crashes ahead of him but couldn't stop in time.
"You don't see the ice, 'til you feel it... You can't stop, so I steered off into that wall... then the people behind me just bam, bam, bam, bam," Howard said.
Howard said he steered into the wall to lessen the impact and that everyone who crashed around him walked away.
He added that the roadway had been clear as he drove from Denton. "All of a sudden there's ice, and everybody's wrecking."
Anyone who may have video of the crash is asked to call police at 817.392.4222 so that they may further investigate.
"My heart is broken for this community as we deal with the tragic loss of so many lives and so many injuries in a scene like we have never seen before," Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. "So many people have lost their loved ones or had them injured and that pain is just incredible, this whole community will feel that pain."
North Tarrant Express released a full statement on the pileup:
We join the greater community in our thoughts for the accident victims, their families, and those recovering. NTE & NTE35W maintenance crews started pre-treating the corridors on Tuesday morning in anticipation of inclement weather, and have been treating continuously as they monitor the roadway. We will continue treating the highways through the weekend and into next week, as long as the storm is active. Our crews treat the entire corridor, managed lanes, general purpose lanes, frontage roads and ramps, and operate under the same procedure as the Texas Department of Transportation. Additionally our message boards throughout the corridor have been alerting drivers of the adverse weather conditions and encouraging them to drive with caution. Currently, the crews are assisting emergency responders to manage the accident scene and clean up in order to reopen the corridor, safely.
The Texas Department of Transportation agency as a whole also sent out a statement:
Our thoughts are with the families of those involved in deadly crashes across the state in this tragic winter weather event TxDOT is committed to the safety of drivers. During all winter weather events, TxDOT undertakes proactive, advance measures such as pretreating its roads, which can help prevent ice from sticking to the roadway.
Conditions on roadways can change rapidly, and unfortunately, even with proactive measures the unpredictable and fast-changing severe Texas weather can still result in some ice accumulating.
As we have done since earlier this week, TxDOT will continue to inform drivers on weather and road conditions; encourage them to only travel when necessary; and drive to the conditions on the roadway.
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