CINCINNATI (Cincinnati.com) - Icy roads caused havoc throughout Greater Cincinnati on Monday, triggering crashes that killed a 12-year-old girl, injured 20 people and shut down two major highways.
The most serious accident occurred shortly after 11:30 a.m. on westbound I-275 near the Colerain Avenue exit just as a snow squall moved through the area, reducing visibility and coating the road with ice.
Hamilton County sheriff's deputies said the trouble started when cars spinning out of control set off a chain reaction of collisions. Before it was over, at least 87 cars and trucks had slammed into one another.
The multiple crashes crunched the vehicles together like an accordion and left wreckage strewn across the road and median, shutting down the interstate for hours.
"It was just chaos, absolute chaos," said Lt. Tory Smith of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
One car rolled over and several others were pinned beneath semi-tractor trailers. Rescuers, who rushed to the scene from at least a dozen communities, worked for more than an hour to free motorists trapped inside their cars.
Two of the people injured in the crash were children, ages four and five.
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 she was struck by a steel cable from a guardrail that snapped after being hit by one of the cars.
Tony Ali, of Hamilton, said he saw paramedics working frantically to save the girl as 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."
John Combs, of Brookville, Ohio, said the road was just becoming covered with snow when a tractor trailer swerved in front of him. He said he turned to his wife, who was reading a newspaper, and said, "We're going to get hit."
Both he and his wife escaped serious injury.
Police said bad weather also played a part in several accidents Monday on Interstate 75, the worst of which also occurred around 11:30 a.m., between the Monroe and Middletown exits.
Minor injuries were reported, but as many as 50 cars and trucks were involved. A spokeswoman for the Ohio Highway Patrol said a snow squall created "white out" conditions shortly before the accident.
Officials said late Monday they still didn't know the number of crash scenes along that stretch of highway and were still investigating. Accidents were so numerous on I-75 that by mid-afternoon the highway patrol said "the whole thing is a parking lot."
Parts of I-75 remained closed through early Monday evening. I-275 has been fully reopened.
Both accidents occurred as the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. A band of snow squalls that moved through the area in the late morning and early afternoon was especially intense just north of the city.
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 re-freeze.
"Probably the biggest thing that happened is the quick reducing of visibility," Hickman said. "That's probably when the accidents piled up."