Traffic moving again in Willamette Valley
PORTLAND (AP) —The Oregon Department of Transportation says one lane of traffic southbound has been opened north of Albany where crews are trying to clear wreckage from a major pileup.
State officials estimated 25 vehicles, including semitrailer trucks, crashed in clusters when snowfall moved in quickly.
The state says traffic is still backed up for a long distance, and there could be intermittent stoppages as crews move disabled vehicles.
A 39-year-old man died in a massive weather-related crash Thursday on Interstate 5 near the Battle Ground exit.
Twenty-eight vehicles, including tractor-trailers, were involved in the crash, reported at milepost 13, near the Gee Creek rest area about 10 a.m.
Around the same time, several crashes were reported in both directions along the I-5 corridor.
Authorities eventually closed the freeway near the Battle Ground exit, but traffic in both directions was reopened by 12:30 p.m. Hours later, however, traffic was still backed up.
“The weather conditions changed very quickly,” said Tim Dawdy, spokesman for Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Matthew S. Scott, 39, of Tualatin, Ore., died at the scene, according to a memo from the Washington State Patrol. Seven others sustained injuries.
Troopers couldn’t provide further details because they were spread thin responding to scores of other weather-related crashes on I-5, I-205 and state highways.
Rescuers from nearly every fire department in Clark County and some from Cowlitz County assisted at the scene near the Battle Ground exit, which dispatchers coded as a mass-casualty incident.
Emergency personnel moved from vehicle to vehicle to provide triage.
Firefighters started with a car that was badly damaged and trapped between two tractor-trailers, Dawdy said.
“We used Jaws of Life to extricate the person, but he died at the scene,” Dawdy said.
The American Red Cross responded to the crash, supplying troopers with bottled water, blankets and granola bars to pass out to people who were stuck on the road in the subfreezing temperatures for many hours. A bus was brought to the Gee Creek rest area to provide a warm spot to wait for people whose vehicles were destroyed.
“This is the heaviest snow we’ve had in quite a while,” Dawdy said. “Simultaneously, a mile and a half down the road, there was another major incident.”
A multiple-vehicle crash was reported at I-5 southbound near the Northeast 219th Street exit.
“There was actually two major wrecks going on simultaneously with dozens of small accidents happening at the same time,” Dawdy said. As snow flurried across the metro area, accidents extended to other roadways around the county, including some reported on Interstate 205 and state Highway 14.
Firefighters, he said, are trained for these kinds of incidents though. They quickly assess the incident and assign priorities to injuries with the most critical getting the highest priority.
The firefighters working “did an outstanding job today,” Dawdy said. “They kept calm and handled it well.”
Coupled with multiple fires this morning, two of which grew to two alarms, emergency personnel in Clark County were stretched thin.
Trooper Steve Schatzel said that people driving too fast for the conditions was the biggest problem he was seeing.