The accident occurred shortly before 8 a.m. Officials closed about 20 miles of Interstate 10 from Lake City to Live Oak, which is about 75 miles east of Tallahassee.
Because of the twisted wreckage, it has been difficult determining exactly how many vehicles are involved. "It was a bad accident. Luckily, (the death toll) wasn't any worse," said Suwanee County Emergency Manager Murel McDonald.
Police told CBS Radio News that three of the vehicles involved were tractor-trailers, two carrying hazardous materials. One truck spilled its load of hydrochloric and sulfuric acid, but HAZMAT teams quickly contained it. "We got all the victims out, but we got a real combination of twisted metals of several vehicles and it's right in the middle of this hot zone, so we have to get that cleaned up," McDonald said.
Leroy Smith of the Florida Highway Patrol says the pileup appears to have been the result of poor visibility due to a nearby wildfire. The blaze began burning last weekend, and has been growing to cover 7,000 acres.
But Major Ken Howes says they aren't sure. "We are getting information that a pickup truck caught on fire, which might have caused a chain-reaction crash. Nothing definite has been determined," he said.
McDonald said that when he arrived at the scene shortly after the accident, smoke from a fire at Osceola National Park blanketed the ground. Officials have said that the 7,000-acre fire, about 10 miles north of the scene, was intentionally set. McDonald said he has requested satellite imagery from the state to make a determination.
CBS News Correspondent Peter King, who was on the scene, said "cars were crushed like bugs." One veteran police officer said it was the worst accident he had seen in his 30-year career.
Erik Gebauer, of Melbourne, Fla., said he was driving a Mustang that slid under a tractor-trailer. "I don't understand how I lived through that," he said with his voice shaking. "All I can remember was pushing that freaking door. I felt death right behind me. I can't believe I made it.
"I saw in my rearview there were oncoming cars, I jumped out, broke the door loose, ran around, and just as I ran around and cleared my car, a semi just totally wasted my Mustang," he told King.
"You see stuff like this in the movies and then when you really live it..." he added. "It's just like everyone says, you don't think something like this would happen and then boom! It does."
The injured were taken to area hospitals, including Shands Hospital in Gainesville.