PAYSON Crude oil and shredded car parts covered fresh snow near Exit 250 Monday after several gargantuan pileups involving 12 semi trucks and 30 cars shut down a portion of I-15.
Police estimate the initial wrecks occurred on both sides of I-15 around 11:45 a.m., Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Nielson said, then other cars and semi trucks piled on in domino-like fashion.
"People were going too fast and following too close for the conditions," he said. The white-knuckle conditions are not over, either, as forecasters predict another storm will make Wednesday morning's commute a mess.
Although a total of 12 semitrucks and 30 cars were involved Monday's chain-reaction collisions, there were no fatalities, Nielson said. EMTs rushed 18 of the accident victims to Mountain View Hospital and another nine were taken to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
Only one person's status was reported as serious to critical, Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Cameron Roden said, but that person is expected to recover.
The pileup was one of more than 290 crashes handled by the troopers in Salt Lake and Utah counties alone. The Utah Highway Patrol reported 241 crashes and 43 slide-offs in Salt Lake County. In Utah County, 51 crashes and 21 slide-offs were reported.
At least one traffic fatality was reported. A 34-year-old woman was killed in a one-car accident in Tooele County, Roden said. Slick conditions caused the woman's vehicle to roll into a wash where she was pronounced dead at the scene, Roden said.
The storm swept across Utah accompanied by high winds, which created blizzard-like conditions.
"Every major freeway in the state at some point closed today," said Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Nile Easton.
He said I-215, I-15, I-80 and US-6 all had some temporary closures due to either accidents or low visibility. Other road closures were reported from St. George to Brigham City.
The steady deluge of crashes taxed the resources of emergency responders and, even hours after the crashes near Payson, the aftermath was still in the clearing stages.
Crews were especially concerned with clearing the northbound lane of an estimated 600 gallons of spilled crude oil, Nielson said. The oil tanker from D&A McRae LLC sprung a leak when a truck from a Santaquin greenhouse skidded into the tank and punched a 50-cent-piece sized hole, he said. The oil poured from the 3,400 tanker and pooled in an opaque reservoir on the asphalt.
Investigators are still uncertain exactly what caused the initial crashes, Nielson said, but they think the blizzard conditions played a heavy factor.
"The lead cars that were involved were saying it was a white-out," he said.
Pam Akin, a nine-year employee of the Rite-Aide in Payson, was working less than a hundred yards from the freeway when the first cars collided. She didn't see it, in fact, she couldn't even see the store's own parking lot out the window.
"You couldn't see anything," she said. "It was a total white-out."
But she could hear it.
"Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom," she said, imitating the sounds. "It was horrible."
A few minutes later, a man rushed into the store shouting, "Call 911." Then four crash victims came into the store, complaining of neck and back injuries. Akin and the other Rite-Aid employees lay them on the ground and kept them warm until EMTs arrived about 10 minutes later.
Akin was amazed no one was killed in the pile-up.
"It's wonderful," she said.
While tow trucks hauled away the shredded shells of cars ncluding a small, blue Toyota car that was reduced to a wedge-shaped piece of shrapnel Payson Fire and Rescue personnel shoveled sand onto the spilled crude oil. The sand absorbs the oil so a backhoe can then push it off the road before the road is reopened later in the evening, explained Payson Fire Chief Scott Spencer.
"We don't need the roads any slicker than they are now," he said. "It's been hectic."
But on the heels of Monday's storm, forecasters at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City expect another to hit northern Utah this evening and linger into tomorrow morning.
The storm is expected to bring another 3 to 6 inches to lower elevations along the Wasatch Front and up to 10 inches on the benches, according to the Weather Service.
"It could impact some of the afternoon commute," said forecaster Linda Cheng. "But there's a greater chance it will impact the Wednesday morning drive."
Monday's storm created problems both on and off the state's roadways.
At the Salt Lake International Airport, operations were briefly suspended at 11:15 a.m. because of the blizzard. All flights were grounded and no in-coming flights could land for about 45 minutes, said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann. The flight suspension was lifted about noon.
By 6 p.m. the Weather Service was reporting 4 inches of new snow in Layton and the Avenues, 8 inches in South Salt Lake and nearly 9 inches up Emigration Canyon.
The Canyons received 14 inches of new snow, while 28 inches fell at Solitude. The storm did not spare the southwest portion of the state, dumping 6 inches of snow in New Harmony and delivering 12 inches of snow to Brian Head.
The high winds that preceded the storm also caused periodic problems for Rocky Mountain Power crews in Utah. Power outages were reported in Kearns, West Bountiful and Holladay. At least one school Olympus Junior High closed early because a power outage.
The National Weather Service reported 100 mph winds at the tops of Snowbasin and Ogden Peak, while most of the populated areas of the state from Tooele to Olympus Cove to the Salt Lake International Airport reported wind speeds of over 50 mph. Winds at the St. George airport were clocked at 74 mph.The Utah Avalanche Center issued a special avalanche advisory Monday for the mountains of northern Utah. The avalanche danger in those areas was listed as "high" due to the high winds and expected heavy snowfall.