A dense “super fog” led to a massive pile-up on Interstate 55, near New Orleans. This event, which occurred on October 23, 2023, claimed the lives of at least eight people, with over 160 vehicles involved in the pile-up.
The incident was the result of a deadly combination of thick fog and smoke from marsh fires, leading to severely reduced visibility and a series of crashes.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in New Orleans described the weather phenomenon as a “super fog,” cautioning that similarly dangerous weather conditions could appear later in the week.
Super fog forms when a mixture of smoke and moisture from damp, smoldering vegetation mixes with cooler air, reducing visibility to less than 10 feet (3 meters). The consequences of this phenomenon can be catastrophic, as evidenced by the tragedy on Interstate 55.
As thick fog blanketed the area, multiple marsh fires added to the conditions by releasing smoke into the atmosphere.
These fires, fueled by the ongoing drought and extreme heat, contributed to a dangerous blend of elements in the region.
A total of 168 vehicles were involved in the pile-up on Interstate 55, causing devastation. As vehicles collided and piled on top of each other, some were consumed by flames.
The hazardous nature of the situation was amplified by one of the vehicles involved being a tanker truck carrying a “hazardous liquid,” further complicating the rescue and recovery efforts.
First responders were quickly on the scene, facing a tough task. The crash site was nothing short of chaotic, with vehicles crushed, mangled, and engulfed in flames.
People who managed to escape their vehicles stood along the road, while others cried out for help. Clarencia Patterson Reed, one of the survivors, recounted the terrifying experience.
She was driving with her wife and niece when the pile-up began. People signaled for her to stop, but her car was hit from behind and the side by two other vehicles. She managed to scramble out of her car, but her wife was pinned inside, injured.
Another driver, Christopher Coll, described how he was already braking when a pickup truck drove up on top of his work trailer, taking him on a harrowing ride.
As the fog thickened, the scene became dangerous, and the sound of crashing cars and popping tires filled the air.
Coll, displaying bravery, managed to escape his vehicle and help others, even pulling someone through a car window to safety.
At first, the death toll was reported at seven, but, an eighth victim succumbed to injuries and passed away at a local hospital.
More than 63 individuals were injured during the pile-up, with varying degrees of severity. Some were transported to hospitals, while others sought medical assistance independently.
Following the pile-up, emergency crews worked to clear debris from both the northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.
A structural inspection was scheduled to take place once the bridge’s surface was cleared of debris, diesel, and other chemicals.
The closure of the long stretch of Interstate 55, which spans Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, was expected to persist “for the foreseeable future.”
The “super fog” phenomenon that descended upon the region was a critical factor in the severity of this catastrophe.
This dense fog, caused by the merging of moisture from smoldering organic material and cooler, nearly saturated air, contributed to a significant drop in visibility.
In some areas, visibility was reduced to less than 10 feet, rendering driving conditions perilous. One of the aspects of “super fog” is its rapid formation and localized nature.
Visibility can deteriorate swiftly over short distances, especially when combined with vehicles traveling at high speeds on a highway.
Such conditions hinder a driver’s ability to react to sudden changes on the road, making it a recipe for disaster.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called for prayers for the victims and their families. The governor also encouraged residents to donate blood to help replenish supplies depleted in caring for the wounded.