At least five people are dead after winter weather conditions led to multi-car pileup on a Texas interstate, according to officials.
The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) confirmed the fatalities during a press conference Thursday, shortly after the "massive accident pileup" on Interstate 35W, which involved more than 70 vehicles.
Officials noted during the press conference that 36 people were transported to area hospitals, but were unable to confirm the exact number of injuries.
"It is not something we take lightly," Fort Worth Fire Department public information officer Mike Drivdahl said during the press briefing. "We've never seen anything like this… we train for this type of scenario, but never really expect it to happen."
The fatal incident unfolded in Fort Worth just after 6 a.m. local time, according to tweets from the Fort Worth Fire Department (FWFD) and MedStar EMS.
Freezing rain fell in the Dallas-Fort Worth area overnight, leading to a winter storm warning to be issued, with anticipation of icy roadways and dangerous travel conditions, the National Weather Service reported.
Initial reports from MedStar EMS stated that multiple vehicles and patients had been involved in the crash — including a MedStar unit — and that an 18-wheeler had possibly rolled over.
Traffic was backed up in both directions before police shut down all northbound lanes of the NB I35 Toll Express and regular lanes, according to a tweet from the FWPD.
During the press conference, fire and MedStar officials confirmed that three dozen people were transported to area hospitals using 14 ambulances.
Patients who were in serious or critical condition were taken to nearby trauma centers, while those with lesser injuries were transported to outlying hospitals, officials said.
Drivdahl also confirmed that they were "going vehicle by vehicle, to make sure that anybody that is still trapped in their vehicle has been extricated… There's a lot of vehicles to go through."
"First responders actually had difficulty getting to the vehicles," he explained. "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."
"We have made our first primary sweep," he added. "We believe that we have made contact with anybody that we can see at this point, anybody we can get to."
Because of the "heavy damage" that many of the vehicles suffered, Drivdahl said he believes it will take officials "a long time" to fully investigate and clear the scene.
In a video update around 8 a.m. local time, FWPD Officer Daniel Segura confirmed that it was still a "very active scene" and that authorities were working to get those involved out of the cold weather and to a safe place.
A family reunification location for families to pick up and meet drivers or passengers was set up by authorities at Riverside Community Center in Fort Worth, according to the FWPD.
As they continue to investigate, officials are urging people to avoid the scene and seek other routes if traveling is necessary.
"The weather is still very aggressive," Segura said in the video. "Keep your distance, slow down."
"These events are so dangerous because the ice is spotty," the National Weather Service wrote in a tweet. "We can't stress enough that road conditions could go from good to dangerous within blocks. Take it slow out there."
Police are also advising those involved in the crash who only experienced minor damage to their vehicle and are not injured to "exchange information and continue on safely."
"You can then notify your insurance when you arrive at your destination," they noted.
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