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The crash involved between 50 and 60 vehicles, trapping some in their cars.
In a Tuesday interview with NBC’s “Today” show, two New Yorkers described it as being like a “demolition derby.”
The couple was traveling home when they heard the cars and trucks piling up on the Schuylkill County interstate behind them. They eventually drove down a ditch and abandoned their car.
Another eyewitness said
“I heard a really large boom and that’s when the black smoke came up from the tanker truck that blew up,” Lillie Weaver told WBRE. “That’s when I knew it was really bad,” Lillie Weaver
Local outlets reported that Interstate 81 was still closed on Tuesday, as the clean-up continued, although the Schuylkill County Office of Emergency Management said that southbound lanes were open Monday night.
It occurred between exits 116 and 119, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. All lanes were subsequently closed.
Videos posted on social media showed drivers and passengers lining the road and jumping out of the way as tractor-trailers and cars collided amid low visibility conditions.
Several vehicles were still on fire in the mid-afternoon, as firefighters had to bring in water tankers due to the remote location of the deadly crash.
More than a dozen motorists were transferred to local hospitals.
John Blickley, the deputy emergency management coordinator of the Schuylkill County Office of Emergency Management, said officials believe a snow squall clouded visibility.
According to Fox Weather, he said other drivers and passengers were taken by bus from the scene to a reception center – though NBC reported some waited hours for buses – and noted that there were additional concerns about more snow.
The highway was snow-covered when the snow squall came through, according to Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm.
He explained Monday that fires were delaying a full investigation.
Beohm added that some people were taken to the Wegmans distribution center in an industrial park near the crash and that a reunification center had been set up at the Goodwill Fire Company No. 1 in Minersville.
Snow squalls are associated with strong cold fronts and include sudden and heavy snowfall.
The National Weather Service (NWS) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency had warned travelers about “numerous brief heavy snow squalls with very poor visibility.”
Last month, a 50-car pileup occurred on Interstate 81 roughly 30 miles north of Monday’s wreck. It was also caused by a snow squall, WNEP reported at the time.
Schuylkill County is located about two hours west of Philadelphia.
WOLF FOX 56 reported that the American Red Cross has responded to provide resources and assistance to the motorists involved in the crash.
Fox News’ Emma Colton, Paul Best and The Associated Press contributed to this report.