Fuel Tanker Explodes; 2 Die In 55-Car Crash After "Brutal" Northeast Cold Turns I-95 Into Ice Rink

The US northeast, and much of America, woke up to a brutal blast of frigid air sweeping across the United States, which has wreaked havoc on roads in Virginia and Maryland, leaving at least three dead in multi-vehicle wrecks Saturday.

According to CBS, a 55-vehicle crash on a icy stretch of I-95 in Baltimore, which also included a dramatic crash and explosion of a fuel tanker truck, left at least two people dead and motorists stranded for hours about 5 a.m. Saturday, Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Roman Clark said. Eleven people were taken to hospitals.

The frozen roads are the result of an arctic air mass, called Winter Storm Decima, that has chilled large swaths of the northern United States for days will culminate this weekend with dangerous cold in Montana and North Dakota as heavy snow falls in other parts of the country, officials said. People in North Dakota face "life threatening cold" and the risk of frostbite with exposure of 10 minutes or less, the National Weather Service (NWS) said in an advisory. In Montana dangerous wind chills are expected to last through Saturday afternoon and people should guard against hypothermia, the NWS said.

Temperatures in parts of Montana could plummet to record lows for this day of around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius), meteorologist Kenneth James of the Weather Prediction Center said in a phone interview cited by Reuters.

The bitter cold comes from a blast of arctic air - the second one this week - blowing south from Canada across the U.S. border into the northern plain states and the Midwest, NWS officials said. It has joined forces with a storm that swept in from the Pacific Ocean, bringing snowfall to large sections of the northern United States as it chugs across the country to the East Coast, they said. Areas of Wisconsin, Indiana, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine will see the heaviest snowfall from the storm on Saturday, with up to 6 inches (15 cm) of accumulation possible in those regions.

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So far most impacted has been transportation along the I-95 corridor and especially around Baltimore, where traffic was at a stand still for hours while crews assessed this morning's crash. Authorities say a tanker went off the bridge and fell down to the street below.

A Twitter clip posted on Saturday morning showed a fuel truck flipping over a median on the interstate before erupting in flames near the Washington Boulevard exit, CNN affiliate WBAL reported. Clark confirmed the video showed the I-95 crash.

Following the crash, I-95 in parts of southwest Baltimore has been largely shut down as emergency vehicles descended on the scene, stalling traffic for miles and leading authorities to urge stranded motorists on both sides of the interstate to "remain warm and calm and shelter in place" in their cars, Clark said.

"If you don't have to go out on the roads, we would ask that you just stay in at this time until the temperatures rise," Clark told CNN.

Mayor Catherine Pugh gave a statement on the incident:

I want to share my deepest condolences to those affected by this morning’s multi-vehicle crash.  Today’s icy road conditions remind us all that it is imperative to exercise extreme caution due to severe weather. I want to thank the emergency crews for their expedient response. They continue to work closely with City agencies to render aid and coordinate efforts to stabilize road conditions for motorists. For the latest updates and information, please follow the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. We ask that residents delay travel if possible.

Elsewhere in the northeast corridor, police responded to more than 40 traffic incidents in northern Virginia, some involving multiple vehicles, according to the state police. One person was killed in a multi-vehicle crash at 5:12 a.m. on Interstate 495 in Fairfax County, state police said.

At Dulles Airport, just outside Washington D.C., icy conditions forced the closure of runways. The dangerous conditions arrived as some people started their holiday travel early.

In Indiana, the Wayne Township Fire Department and the Indianapolis police had to evacuate stranded drivers from I-465. The slick roadway forced rescuers to use a ladder in the evacuation. Police in Marion and Hendricks counties responded to nearly 200 accidents, 36 involving injuries, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to the Indianapolis police.

In the West, a snowstorm has already hammered parts of Oregon, dropping snow on the region on Wednesday. Photos showed cars strewn across snow-covered roads and trucks spun out at odd angles. Officials asked drivers to avoid the roads as traffic ground to a virtual halt.

In the Portland metro area, the snowstorm jammed public transportation and stranded hundreds of students who couldn't get home due to dangerous road conditions, reported CNN affiliate KOIN. Many were stuck in traffic on school buses or spent extra hours at school, waiting to be picked up after one to three inches of snow fell across the region. Many of the area schools closed Thursday to avert more chaos on the roads, according to CNN affiliate KPTV.

Oregon also had three avalanches Wednesday amid the flurry of snow, closing down Highway 20, said the Oregon State Police.

As millions of people take to the roads over the holiday weekend, snow and ice will make for dangerous driving conditions on the roadways, the National Weather Service warns.

Drivers in Raleigh, North Carolina have been advised to stay home and avoid travel due to the inclement conditions.

"Freezing rain is causing traffic-related issues throughout Raleigh at this hour," the Raleigh Police Department said in a memo Saturday.

"As is typically the case, bridges and overpasses were the among the first areas to have issues due to icing, but the problems are widespread and not limited to those locations."

In the Indiana counties of Marion and Hendricks, authorities responded to nearly 200 accidents between 10 p.m. Friday and 4 a.m. Saturday, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Thirty-six of them involved injuries, police said.

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Conditions are not expected to improve much in the coming hours as frigid air blast is bringing bone-chilling winds and subfreezing temperatures to millions across the country this weekend. The National Weather Service warns that the massive system will produce heavy snow from parts of northern California to the Great Lakes. Its reach will extend into the southern Rockies and New England by Saturday morning.

Here's what CNN says you can expect:

  • Nearly 50% of the country will see temperatures dip below freezing Saturday and Sunday
  • With the wind chill, temperatures could reach 35 below zero in the Midwest and Northeast on Saturday
  • Close to 116 million people are under a Winter Weather Advisory
  • As temperatures rise overnight, coastal cities in the Northeast will see a changeover from snow to rain by Saturday evening.
  • A strong storm over the central Rockies will move northeast to New England by Sunday morning.
  • Potentially life threatening wind chills as low as 50 degrees below zero are expected in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado and Idaho.
  • Portions of Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota could get the coldest air the region has seen in two years.