MoDOT officials are pointing the finger at a missed forecast as the reason for untreated, icy highways that led to a number of crashes Wednesday morning, including a 31-vehicle pile up on Highway 64/40 that sent 20 people to area hospitals.
That crash began when a UPS tractor trailer lost control on eastbound 40 near Vandeventer in Midtown. A car crashed into him, then another as the vehicles piled up.
Kenneth Sanders says it was a helpless feeling when he tried to stop. “I was saying to myself I can’t stop! I can’t stop! And there was nothing I could do but just continue to brace myself for the impact. It was just a sheet of ice.”
Fire crews rushed to the scene, but soon the rescuers were also part of the wreck. Two fire trucks, two ambulances and a supervisors car were damaged.
“Road conditions were extremely poor and then it started snowballing if you will,” St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said.
The question many were asking is why the roads were so bad. MoDOT officials say the freezing rain caught them completely off guard.
“It is our responsibility to keep the roads clear,” Engineer Tom Blair said. “We weren’t able to do that this morning solely because we had an unforecasted rain event that froze on the roadway.”
Blair says it was less than an hour before the crash that he got the first inkling that ice might become a factor.
“We learned about it about 4:20 in the morning, and by 5:00 I had over 100 trucks on the road spreading salt on the most critical sections.”
But there were clearly sections that had not yet been treated, most notably the spot on 40.
This main wreck, and several others, crippled traffic across the metro area Wednesday morning. It left MoDOT crews trying to determine if they could have done anything different.
“We talked to meteorologists saying, what the heck happened? Did we miss something? And no we didn’t,” Blair insisted. “We’re always prepared for something like this but we can’t deal with something when it’s not forecast.”
Emergency workers say it was practically impossible to get the people out because they were packed so tightly together. Emergency crews had to walk on top of the mass of vehicles just to see how many people were trapped. Cries could be heard coming from the cars and some people were sprawled out on the pavement waiting for medical attention. For a lot of the accident victims, it seemed like a scene out of a movie.
Authorities say it’s amazing more people did not suffer serious injuries.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol says they responded to 50 to 60 calls for service Wednesday morning due to icy road conditions in St. Charles, St. Louis and Lincoln counties. Most of the victims have been treated and released from the hospital.