WINNEBAGO COUNTY, WI (WBAY/CNN) - Officials in Wisconsin are blaming whiteout conditions for a chain reaction crash involving at least 131 vehicles that left one person dead, WBAY reports.
Deputies say it took two hours for them to stabilize the scene of a Sunday morning traffic collision on Interstate 41. One person died during the accident, and in total, 71 people were taken to area hospitals, where all but five of them were treated and released.
Riann Pargeter, who was involved in the 131-vehicle pileup along with her mother, described it as nothing she’s seen or experienced before.
“You could just hear the crashes from all around us, and then, we were just kind of able to pull to the side a little bit,” Pargeter said. “A truck came up next to us, and we thought - you just sit there and just wait like, ‘OK, we’re going to get hit next.’"
Another woman involved in the crash, only identified as Phoenix, says she’s lucky she and her fiancé got to walk away.
"We ran into blowing snow, and then, next thing we know there were like cars piled up, and we smashed right into it,” she said. “We ran into a white SUV. Then, somebody else ran into us, and we hit the side on my fiancé's side.”
Uninjured drivers and passengers were safely removed from their stranded vehicles and taken to warming shelters. All families involved were reunited. The American Red Cross provided blankets, food and beverages to those impacted.
Deputies say whiteout conditions were to blame for the crash.
"Up on scene, that was the worst conditions I’ve ever seen,” said Chief Deputy Todd Christopherson with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.
Nearly 500 vehicles were stopped behind the crash and re-routed. Crews spent the day cleaning up the mess, removing almost all of the impacted vehicles.
It has also been reported that 772 calls were placed to 911 regarding the incident.
Authorities are still assessing when the best time would be to re-open the highway. They urge everyone to avoid the area.