Vehicles are piled up in major crash on I-275 westbound, between the intersections of Hamilton Avenue and Colerain Avenue in Colerain Township, Ohio, Monday January 21, 2013. (photo by Gary Landers, Cincinnati Enquirer)
By The Cincinnati Enquirer
CINCINNATI -- Icy roads caused havoc through the Cincinnati area on Monday, triggering a series of crashes that killed a 12-year-old girl, injured many other people and shut down two major highways.
The most serious accident occurred shortly after 11:30 a.m. on westbound Interstate 275 just as a snow squall moved through the area, creating almost instantaneous "near-white-out" conditions and making the road slick, authorities said.
Hamilton County sheriff's deputies said the trouble started when vehicles spinning out of control set off a chain reaction of collisions. By the time it was over, at least 87 cars and trucks had slammed into one another.
"It was just chaos, absolute chaos," said Lt. Tory Smith of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
Rescuers from at least a dozen communities worked for more than an hour to free trapped motorists.
The 12-year-old girl, who has not been identified, was killed when she got out of her car after the accident. Sheriff's investigators said she was standing in the median when a steel cable from a guardrail hit her; it had snapped after one of the vehicles hit it.
Among those injured were two children, ages 4 and 5.
Tony Ali, of Hamilton, said he saw paramedics working frantically to save a girl who he thought was about 5 years old. He and other crash survivors tried to help people trapped in their cars, including an elderly couple whose car was wedged against Ali's car.
"I pray for them," Ali said. "God blessed me. I am OK."
The Interstate 275 pileup was one of several wrecks that happened around the same time, including a 52-vehicle pileup on Interstate 75, police said.
About 10 people from that crash scene were treated at hospitals, but no one was reported seriously hurt, police said.
All southbound lanes of Interstate 75 were closed for about four hours while crews cleared the wreckage and investigated.
Officials said late Monday that they still didn't know the number of crash scenes along that stretch of highway. Accidents were so numerous on I-75 that, by midafternoon, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said: "The whole thing is a parking lot."
Parts of I-75 remained closed through early Monday evening. I-275 was fully reopened just before 7 p.m.
Scott Hickman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the squalls dropped no more than an inch of snow. But he said the snow hit quickly, reduced visibility and made roads slick.
Although the temperature was in the 20s, Hickman said, the roads may have been warmer, causing the snow to melt and then refreeze.
Contributing: Enquirer reporters Dan Horn, Sheila McLaughlin, Janice Morse, Michael Clark and Paul McKibben