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Burst of snow triggered big Indiana pile-up

This cell phone image shows a massive highway pileup on Interstate 94 near Michigan City, Ind.

Matt Carpenter/Sun-Times Media, via AP

This cell phone image shows a massive highway pileup on Interstate 94 near Michigan City, Ind.

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. — Cars were mangled, and some were burned despite the blowing snow. Other vehicles were crushed between jackknifed semi-tractors, so entwined that it was difficult to tell them apart.

People were screaming, but emergency responders could not see many of them as they quickly tended to victims amid frigid conditions.

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Within seconds, traffic along snow-covered Interstate 94 in northern Indiana had become a milelong pile of debris after whiteout conditions swept in during the Thursday evening commute. Three people were killed and nearly two dozen were injured.

‘‘It was such a devastating scene, you don’t know where to start,’’ said Coolspring Township Fire Chief Mick Pawlik, whose volunteers were among the first on the scene 60 miles south of Chicago.

Rescuers set about prioritizing the victims based on the severity of their injuries.

The chain-reaction collision was triggered by a burst of heavy lake-effect snow that took drivers by surprise, said Indiana State Police Lieutenant Jerry Williams. In 45 seconds, dozens of vehicles — including numerous other trucks — crashed into one another.

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