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5 dead in Pennsylvania pileup during snowstorm

The death toll has risen following a pileup Monday on Interstate 81 in eastern Pennsylvania. A total of five people have now been pronounced dead, according to a WFMZ-TV report.

Dozens more were injured when tractor-trailers and other vehicles lost control and slammed into each other during a snow squall. Snow squalls are intense bursts of snow accompanied by powerful winds. They often produce whiteout conditions, reducing visibility very quickly, and can last up to 30 minutes.

The crash was reported around 10:30 a.m. ET, according to John Blickley, Schuylkill County deputy emergency management coordinator. State police said a large fire involving several of the vehicles burned for hours. Blickley said officials believed the snow squall clouded visibility and likely contributed to the accident.

Related: Snowplow driver shortages creating avalanche of issues for DOTs

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm said fire crews were having to bring tanker trucks to the area because there were no water sources at the scene and the fire was delaying the response. Crews worked for hours to put out fires with water pumped from an overpass.

Blickley said that 24 injured people were taken to four area hospitals. State police say an estimated 50 to 60 vehicles were involved, and crews had cleared about 40% of the crash scene as of early Tuesday afternoon. About 75 drivers who were not taken to hospitals were taken to a Wegman’s Distribution Facility that was a convenient nearby location for emergency crews. The Red Cross has also been helping people involved in the crash.

“We are still tearing it apart, until we get all vehicles out of here and get it all documented,” Beohm said.

David J. Moylan, the Schuylkill County coroner, pronounced three people dead around 3 p.m. Monday, later adding two more to the list. Moylan was back on the scene of the massive pileup late Tuesday morning, saying he suspected there could be more victims, according to the WFMZ report.

“We go through a vehicle and then we have to look to make sure there’s not somebody in there. That can be very painstaking,” Beohm said.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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