Police say the combination of smoke from a brush fire and fog created a deadly environment with near-zero visibility early Saturday morning that caused a huge pileup that left at least 10 dead and 21 hospitalized on Florida's Interstate 75 near Gainesville.
The Florida Highway Patrol are still sifting through exactly what happened, but they tell The Gainesville Sun the crash included five or six commercial vehicles and five or six passenger vehicles. When the sun rose on Sunday, the highway was littered with the burned out carcasses of trucks, cars and SUVs.
Steven Camps II told the Sun it felt like the "end of the world." Camps was leaning out his window talking to another driver about the visibility when the other car was hit from behind and dragged under a semi truck. The paper reports:
"Camps didn't have time to react to the horror as two cars then slammed into his own car, a blue Toyota Camry, wedging him and his passenger between two semis. Camps and his friend, James McGill, managed to get out of the damaged car and walk to the shoulder of the highway.
"Through the heavy black smoke, reddish tongues of fire lapped the air, punctuated by the screams of the trapped and the dying.
"'It looked like the end of the world,' said Camps, who said that at that moment he doubted he would make it home alive, McGill nearby gasping for breath. ...
"The wreckage recalled images of roadside bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan — burned-out hulks of semitrailer trucks, cars that were so badly immolated that their make could not be determined, rubber burned away so that only charred rims rested on the melted asphalt."
The AP reports there is still one big question that remains: Due to poor visibility, authorities had decided to close that stretch of highway in the early hours of Sunday. At about 3 to 3:30 a.m., police reopened the road and the accidents happened between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m.
"The decision to reopen it early Sunday will certainly be a focus of investigators, as will the question of how the fire may have started," the AP adds.