Neenah, Wisconsin: Strong gale-force winds and blizzard conditions shut down large stretches of heavily traveled highways across the state Sunday, including I-41 where one motorist was killed and several others injured in a chain-reaction pileup involving as many as 100 vehicles.
Authorities were telling people to stay off the roads in a wide swath across the top third of the state because travel was practically impossible. Whiteout conditions, ice-covered roads and multiple crashes caused highways like I-43 to shut down, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Wind gusts were recorded at 60 mph in Racine and Kenosha counties, with 55 mph gusts in Sheboygan and Fond du Lac counties and 52 mph at Milwaukee’s airport. Thousands were without power from branches and tree limbs falling on power lines, mostly in southeastern Wisconsin.
Central and north-central Wisconsin were under a blizzard warning into Sunday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
As of Sunday morning, snow totals in the northwestern part of the state varied from an inch to upward of a foot.
The worst of the traffic accidents happened around 11:20 a.m. in the southbound lanes of I-41 at Highway G in Neenah. Reports from police scanner radio traffic referred to the pileup as a “mass casualty incident” as cars, pickups and semitrailers smashed together and sandwiched underneath each other.
Dispatchers directed ambulances to travel the wrong way on I-41 southbound to reach injured people as first responders from several communities rushed to help triage casualties. Injured motorists were taken to hospitals in Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay and Neenah.
Police used buses to take people from the scene of the crash to warming locations. Hundreds of vehicles were estimated to be stalled on the road behind the pileup.
A video by Dwight Nale shows cars and semis sandwiched together at the scene.
Update: Police have removed everyone from the multi-vehicle crash on I-41 in Neenah. 1 fatality. Numerous injured transported to hospitals. I41 will be CLOSED multiple hours. — WisDOT NE Region (@WisDOTnortheast) February 24, 2019
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation at 1:55 p.m. said I-41 southbound would likely remain closed for 10-plus hours. By then, authorities had removed stranded motorists and victims injured in the crash.
A Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s deputy and another person sustained minor injuries in a three vehicle crash during adverse driving conditions due to weather. Douglas Raflik, Fond du Lac Reporter
In Fond du Lac County and Sheboygan County, a few accidents involved sheriff’s vehicles, causing minor or no injuries and shutting down roads.
“Folks, this is the reason we beg and plead for everyone to move over and slow down when you see emergency lights,” the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook.
Blizzard conditions and strong/damaging winds expected across the region. Power outages are anticipated! pic.twitter.com/OkxVIt63JT— NWS Green Bay (@NWSGreenBay) February 24, 2019
Image: Dozens of cars pile up in crash on I-41 Sunday