Semi with fireworks explodes, burns in 123-car pile up

Medics transported 23 injured motorists to area hospitals; the trucker died in the explosion

The Associated Press

GALESBURG, Mich. — More than 100 vehicles were involved in pileups on a snowy Michigan interstate on Friday, killing a trucker and igniting a fire and explosion on a semi carrying fireworks, police said.

Snow, wind and poor visibility were blamed for the chain reaction of crashes on both sides of Interstate 94 in Kalamazoo County, 150 miles east of Chicago. The interstate wasn't expected to reopen until late Friday or Saturday.

"As you can imagine, it's not easy to count vehicles as they pile up," said Michigan State Police Lt. Rick Pazder, who pegged the number at 123.

Police urged everyone within a 3-mile radius to evacuate the rural area, but that order was lifted by early afternoon once all hazardous materials on the trucks, including acid, had burned off.

A trucker from Ottawa, Canada, was killed and at least 23 people with injuries were taken to hospitals in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Pazder said. Motorists who were not injured were taken by bus to warming centers.

Randall Kern said he was driving behind the truck with the fireworks when he hit the brakes, skidded and stopped his pickup truck on the shoulder.

"I jumped out and I ran away from it because I saw all the trucks coming and they couldn't stop," Kern told the Kalamazoo Gazette. "I jumped out and ran up through the trees to get away."

Another driver, Jay Ellis, said his Jeep was sandwiched in the front and rear. Then, he heard the fireworks exploding.

"I was like, "What was that?' ... At that point they told everybody it wasn't safe and we needed to get out of here," Ellis said.

The crashes were reported between mile markers 88 and 92, near Galesburg.

Elsewhere in Michigan, weather-related crashes closed major roads in Monroe, Saginaw, Kent and Genesee counties.

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