MICHIGAN CITY | Three people were killed and more than 20 motorists were injured in a crash involving more than 40 vehicles in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 94 near mile marker 37, Indiana State Police said.
The massive crash left a sprawling path of destruction along I-94 as officials rushed to rescue the injured. LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said those who were killed were from the cars involved in the crash. He said all of the semitruck drivers appeared to be fine.
"They are still making sure that there aren't any cars under the semis," Sullivan said Thursday afternoon. "That's how intense this is."
Sgt. Ann Wojas, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Police, said Thursday night all of the crash victims were freed from the wreckage. One person with life-threatening injuries was airlifted to a hospital.
A 66-year-old man from Chicago died from blunt force trauma in the crash, Sullivan said. A couple from Grand Rapids, Mich., also died from blunt force trauma.
Sullivan did not release the identities of the victims because notification of next of kin was pending.
The multiple-vehicle crash happened about 3 p.m. between the 35.5 mile marker and the 36.5 mile marker. Troopers said white-out conditions and ice on I-94 caused the crash, but the sequence of event was unclear.
Scott Collins, 17, of Chesterton, told The Associated Press he was riding in a car with three other teens and saw the crash happen just behind them.
"One of the semis started sliding and I think it jackknifed in the middle of the road" and collided with another semi, he said. "After that happened, multiple semis locked up."
A truck got stuck on a guardrail and nearly went into a waterway, he said.
"We were pretty nervous," he said.
Indiana State Police said the eastbound lanes of I-94 are expected to remain closed until Friday. The westbound lanes were scheduled to reopen by late Thursday.
By 9:40 p.m., officials were beginning to tow vehicles from the scene. The American Red Cross and a bus provided by Michigan City police were on the scene to keep people warm.
Troopers estimate there were about 46 semitrucks and vehicles involved in the crash, with the majority being semitrucks. However, state police said it could take until Friday morning to have a complete tally.
Bill Bero, regional media relations specialist for Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City, said one person died after arriving at the hospital. As of 6:30 p.m., the hospital was treating one patient in critical condition and seven other patients in stable condition.
Bero did not have information about the identities or ages of the patients.
State police said Thursday afternoon that officials were extricating one injured person from a vehicle believed to be the last injured person.
Sullivan said three hours after the crash happened, police extricated three people from vehicles who were still alive. He said the three people were airlifted to hospitals.
Troopers diverted traffic from I-94 to Ind. 49 Chesterton exit Thursday, though one westbound lane remained open. Police described the interstate as impassable, urging motorists to find an alternative route.
Lisa Bartolucci, of Chicago, said she was heading to Chicago from Michigan on Thursday afternoon when she hit traffic. She estimates she has been at a standstill for about four hours and wasn't sure what to do.
Troopers said late Thursday they weren't sure when motorists stuck in traffic would be able to get off of the interstate.
LaPorte County Sheriff's Department and Portage police helped state police close off the interstate from the Indiana and Michigan line to the U.S. 35 interchange.
Porter County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Larry LaFlower said Porter County EMS also was assisting in the crash.
Lake County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Patti Van Til said police requested the county helicopter but did not have any further details.
LaPorte County Sheriff's Department Maj. John Boyd said deputies were bringing school buses to the interstate to keep motorists who were involved in the multiple-vehicle crash warm.
As troopers worked to sort out the wreckage, LaPorte County remained under a wind chill advisory until Friday. The National Weather Service warned of wind chills dipping to 15 to 25 degrees below zero. There also is the chance of 2 to 6 inches of lake-effect snow.
Thursday's tragic crash is the latest event to bring Indiana interstates to a halt. Earlier this month a brutal storm system caused officials to shut down Interstate 80/94 and Interstate 65 in Northwest Indiana.
I-80/94 was at a standstill earlier this week after lake-effect snow hammered Lake County.
Thursday morning, black ice created problems throughout the region. Police responded to multiple slide-offs and spin-outs on I-65, just south of Rensselaer.
State police reported crashes on icy I-65 near Lowell about 6 a.m. One crash involved two semis in the northbound lanes at mile marker 240 blocking the left lane.
Another crash in the southbound lanes of I-65 in the same area resulted in minor injuries. Two passenger vehicles were involved in that crash, police said.
Indiana State Police for the Toll Road said the cold and dusting of snow were causing slide-offs and spin-outs there Thursday morning, particularly in LaPorte County.
The Associated Press and Times staff writer Lauri Harvey Keagle contributed to this report.