Dec. 27--A post-Christmas snowstorm created chaos for drivers in Berks County on Thursday morning, leaving dozens injured in crashes that closed parts of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 78.
The trouble started about 8 a.m., and included two westbound crashes along I-78 in northern Berks involving more than 30 vehicles.
Those crashes resulted in at least 44 people requiring medical treatment at the scene, including at least 25 people who went to Reading Hospital, St. Joseph Medical Center or Lehigh Valley Hospital near Allentown, state police said. The westbound I-78 lanes re-opened around 3 p.m.
"It was a mess, a total mess," said Tim Behm, deputy chief of Kutztown Fire Company No. 1. "We were dealing with two different pileups."
Behm said emergency crews had to carry their rescue equipment from the first pileup to the other, which was nearly 200 yards further down the road.
"At one point, there were 13 people entrapped in their cars," Behm said.
The westbound Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed between the Morgantown and Reading interchanges in southern Berks and northern Lancaster counties for more than eight hours.
The closure of the turnpike stemmed from four separate accidents involving a total of 35 vehicles between mileposts 287.5 and 290.2, just east of the Reading/Lancaster exit near Adamstown, turnpike officials said.
Injuries and detours
Two people were critically injured in the turnpike crashes and taken to Reading Hospital, but their names and conditions were not available. Nine or 10 people were taken to area hospitals in the turnpike crashes, said Renee Colborn, manager of media and public relations for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Westbound motorists were forced to exit at Interstate 176 and follow a detour that included Routes 10, 23, 322 and to the Reading exchange on Route 222. The westbound lanes of the turnpike between the Reading and Morgantown exits reopened at around 5:20 p.m.
At one point in the afternoon, turnpike officials were urging motorists heading west to get off at the Valley Forge and Downingtown exits to find alternate routes. Drivers caught up in the turnpike backlog had their tolls waived, the turnpike commission said.
State police are investigating how the crashes occurred, said Trooper Kevin Rathman.
"We will break the pile-up into groups so it's not just one big wreck," Rathman said. From there, Rathman said officers will determine if there are drivers who could be cited.
Thursday's forecast was for a passing snow shower during the day, so many were caught off-guard by the intensity and duration of the snowfall.
Vehicles began sliding off roads and into each other soon after the snow began falling about 8. With temperatures in the 20s, the snow quickly accumulated on roads and sidewalks, creating hazardous conditions for motorists and pedestrians.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded for hours on the westbound West Shore Bypass in Cumru Township after a series of crashes just before the Lancaster Avenue exit between 8:45 and 10 a.m. The westbound Lancaster Avenue exit was at gridlock for the remainder of the morning, Reading police said.
A rollover crash on the eastbound West Shore Bypass just before the Interstate 176 exit in Cumru Township snarled traffic for a time in that direction.
To prevent more vehicles from entering the Reading-bound traffic jam, fire police eventually diverted all northbound I-176 traffic east on the bypass.
Stuck for hours
But that didn't help those already stacked up on the westbound bypass behind the gridlock at Lancaster Avenue, some of whom remained there until around noon, officials said.
About 11:30 a.m., fire police blocked westbound traffic at the Mount Penn exit so police could direct motorists stuck in the traffic jam to turn around and travel east in the westbound lanes.
In Spring Township, fire police closed Van Reed Road between State Hill and Paper Mill roads due to slick conditions. There were also reports of multiple crashes on Route 222 northbound between the Spring Ridge Drive and Route 183 exits in Spring and Bern townships.