A massive multi-vehicle pileup that resulted in several deaths and dozens of injuries occurred Monday near New Orleans, Louisiana due to a relatively rare weather event.
Initial reports on Monday indicated that a "super fog" caused a series of collisions on the I-55 causeway over Lake Pontchartrain that, at the time, involved at least 158 vehicles and resulted in at least 7 fatalities and more than two dozen people injured, according to Fox News.
Those numbers have already increased since that report and are likely to rise even further as first responders continue to pick through the debris and wreckage that clogged both sides of the bridge, caused traffic to back up for several miles in both directions, and will result in the 24-mile-long elevated highway being shut down completely "for the foreseeable future."
According to the Independent, the so-called "super fog" that enveloped the stretch of I-55 over Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans on Monday and reduced visibility to near-zero is not entirely uncommon but is nonetheless a fairly rare event that only occurs occasionally when certain conditions are met.
Citing the National Weather Service, the outlet described a super fog as "a weather phenomenon caused when smoke and moisture -- often released from damp, smoldering organic material such as leaves and brush -- mixes with cooler, moisture-laden air," which allows for particles in the smoke to combine with water molecules and produce thicker than normal fog.
In this particular case, it is believed that smoke from recent marsh fires had combined with light winds in the direction of the causeway and a slow-moving high-pressure system that had trapped the lake's released moisture at the surface level, all of which created "very favorable conditions" for a super fog to develop in the area.
Today's #TimelapseTuesday imagery via @NOAA's #GOESEast 🛰️ shows "super fog" dissipating over ~6 hours in Louisiana yesterday. This formed from a combination of dense fog and smoke from nearby marsh fires, and caused a tragic multi-vehicle accident in St. John the Baptist Parish. pic.twitter.com/JvAzPl7SKo
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) October 24, 2023
The Fox News report noted that, with regard to the number of vehicles involved and the resultant deaths and injuries from the super fog-induced pileup, authorities cautioned that those numbers would undoubtedly rise as the scene was cleared of the many mangled vehicles, some of which had caught on fire and burned completely in the absence of first responders who were unable to reach them.
Indeed, according to local NBC affiliate WDSU, by Tuesday afternoon the Louisiana State Police had reported that at least 168 vehicles were involved in the massive wreck that claimed the lives of at least eight individuals and injured at least 63 others.
The scene was described by witnesses and first responders as horrific: "Vehicles were crushed, rammed under one another, and some were engulfed by flames."
In fact, the bridge was likened to an "endless junkyard of cars" that completely clogged both sides of the causeway and resulted in traffic being backed up for several miles in both directions, which has obviously necessitated the major highway being shut down for an indefinite period as the carnage is sifted through and cleaned up.
As part of the clean-up and investigatory efforts, Louisiana state troopers are reportedly working hard to "notify families, investigate the exact causes of the crashes," and to coordinate with the Louisiana Department of Transportation to thoroughly inspect the bridge and ensure that it remains safe for normal traffic to resume once everything has been cleared.
Fox News reported that in swift reaction to the terrible incident caused by the rare super fog, Louisiana's Democratic Gov. Jon Bel Edwards issued a statement urging everyone to join him and his wife in "praying for those hurt and killed in today’s tragic I-55 crash, as well as their families. The combination of wildfire smoke and dense fog is dangerous, and I want to encourage all Louisianans in affected areas to take extreme caution when traveling."
"I also want to thank the first responders and medical personnel who have worked so diligently to save lives and render aid," he added. "The best way you can help them, besides exercising caution on the road, is to donate blood at your local blood donation center. It will help replenish supplies that are being drained today to care for the wounded."