At least two people were killed in what Evangelical Community Hospital called a mass casualty crash involving more than a dozen vehicles Wednesday afternoon on Interstate 80 in Union County.
Dominick Adamo, Union County coroner, at 8:30 p.m., confirmed a fatality in Union County and declined to say whether the victim was male or female. A second person died at the trauma bay at Geisinger's emergency department, said Montour County coroner Scott Lynn at 9 p.m.
The crash occurred around 1:40 p.m. in White Deer Township and involved up to 20 vehicles. The accident occurred in a heavily wooded area of I-80 during a snow squall, which made roads slick. The pileup shut down Interstate 80 for 34 miles in both directions. PennDOT reopened the eastbound lane after about five hours, but the westbound lane remained closed late Wednesday night.
When the multi-vehicle accident was reported to Evangelical Community Hospital, the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) was initiated. Starting at approximately 1:55 pm actions were put in place to begin to receive patients in an orderly fashion.
Evangelical received 37 patients. Three were transferred to other facilities for a higher level of care, said Deanna Hollenbach, hospital spokeswoman. The hospital also established a family center at the nearby Best Western Country Cupboard Inn for members of victims' families to get information.
In addition to patients, the hospital served as a receiving point for 21 individuals not necessarily involved in the accident and not injured but needing refuge from the hazardous weather conditions. Those individuals and three dogs were received and either held until they could be picked up by loved ones or housed at local hotels overnight.
Response to the incident continued until the hospital closed its incident command around 8 p.m., Hollenbach said.
"We worked with other hospitals in the area to provide a coordinated approach to patient care and essential responding staff are handling the event," Hollenbach wrote in a press release.
As of 7 p.m., said Geisinger Medical Center spokesman Joseph Stender, the hospital "received nine patients in relation to today’s multi-vehicle crash along Interstate 80. Six patients were transported from the scene to the hospital, with an additional three transferred to GMC from other facilities. Current patient conditions remain under evaluation. Additional updates will be provided as they become available."
Valley responders on the scene
Emergency responders from across the region were called to help with the multiple injuries.
The Mifflinburg Hose Company reported it was dispatched to the pileup and arrived on the scene to find approximately 15-20 cars and trucks piled up.
The company's Rescue 3 unit helped to extract victims for approximately an hour and a half. Crews stayed on scene for approximately two hours before returning available.
The Americus Ambulance Co., in Sunbury, sent three ambulances to assist at the scene, General Manager Bob Hare said.
Hare said he also received a call from Geisinger Life Flight at around 2 p.m. requesting a ride for emergency responders because the helicopter couldn’t land near the scene. Hare said the helicopter landed at UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury hospital and the Americus responders gave that crew a ride to the scene.
The Americus kept two ambulances serving the city through the day and had a total of six paramedics and five EMT’s working.
Westbound traffic using Interstate 80 was detoured around the crash at Interstate 180 to Route 220. Eastbound traffic, during the initial response, detoured at the Jersey Shore exit to Route 220 and I-180. According to 911 radio communications, emergency responders traveled the wrong way on the other lane of the interstate to access the crash site.
Westbound traffic heading toward Lock Haven was directed off I-80 at the 212B/I-180 West/Williamsport exit followed a detour using I-180 to Route 220 before reconnecting with I-80 at Williamsport. The road remains closed as of Thursday morning.
PennDOT reopened I-80 eastbound at around 7 p.m. between the 178/220 Lock Haven exit in Clinton County and the 212B/I-180 West/Williamsport exit in Northumberland County.
Daily Item reporters Francis Scarcella and Eric Scicchitano and managing editor William Bowman contributed to this story.