The Georgia State Patrol said as many as 10 separate crashes occurred. At one point, I-16 was shut down in both directions near the Laurens/Twiggs county line. By 6 p.m., eastbound lanes that had been closed for emergency vehicles were reopened to traffic, but westbound lanes remained closed. One westbound lane was expected to be opened late Wednesday.
At least seven commercial trucks were among the 27 vehicles involved in accidents. I-16 is a major route connecting commercial vehicles and tourists to Savannah and other parts to the Georgia coast.
A state Department of Transportation crew had been alerted to the troubling fog early Wednesday and was on its way to put out metal warning signs when they received a call from authorities about a crash, a DOT spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The pileup occurred near Montrose, about 40 miles southeast of Macon. Visibility was poor, partly because the area was under a dense fog advisory. A National Weather Service meteorologist in Peachtree City said some areas had only a quarter-mile of visibility or less.
Some drivers also reported smoke in the area. The GSP said a controlled burn had been permitted in the area on Tuesday and troopers were trying to determine whether burning continued Wednesday.
The first chain reaction wreck happened about 8:10 a.m., and the other chain reaction crashes happened as vehicles approached the first accident, according to the GSP.
Some of the drivers who pulled to the side to avoid the crashes were rear-ended on the shoulder, GSP Capt. Kirk McGlamery said.
“I talked to two individuals involved who had come to a stop and had pulled off, one was on the shoulder and the other was trying to get out of the way, when they were struck by vehicles coming up behind them,” McGlamery told The Associated Press.
The fuel tanker that exploded was empty, but fumes inside ignited, causing an explosion, the GSP said. The driver, however, was not injured.
White, a 45-year-old Army National Guardsman who was on his way to work early Wednesday, told a Dublin reporter he was rear-ended just before the tanker explosion. He said the intensity of the heat “felt like being in Iraq with the fire and explosions.”
Laurens County EMS Director Terry Cobb told The Associated Press a half dozen vehicles were on fire. “There were six vehicles right there together and all of them were on fire,” Cobb said.
The Macon Telegraph reported more than 100 people from emergency crews in Twiggs, Bleckley, Laurens and Wilkinson counties responded to the crash scene.