Icy roads caused multiple accidents on Interstate 76, Interstate 95, Interstate 476 and the Roosevelt Boulevard Sunday morning, claiming at least three lives and leading to major traffic delays in and around Philadelphia.
One driver died and 30 others were injured when as many as 60 cars were involved in a crash on the Schuylkill Expressway near the Gulph Mills exit. According to officials, the accident happened in the westbound lanes between exit 337 and exit 332 just after 7 a.m.
State police identified the man killed as Eric Alan Blau of Philadelphia. The crash took place around 6:40 a.m. in Upper Merion, police said, and Blau was killed after he exited his disabled vehicle and was hit by another car. It was not known why Blau got out of the car, police said. A total of 60 vehicles were involved in the crash and the westbound lanes of the road were closed for seven hours.
All lanes of the expressway in the area of the crash were initially closed, but later reopened.
Eleven patients from the pileup were taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Bridget Therriault said. Their conditions were not immediately available, but most were expected to be sent home Sunday, she said.
State police in Delaware County said two people were killed in a different crash involving multiple vehicles in the southbound lanes of Interstate 476, near Marple Road.
Two people were killed in a multi-car accident on I-476 in Marple Township on Sunday morning that began when a tractor trailer lost control due to ice, state police said.
Police identified Thomas Michael Brennan of Lansdale and Jason Edward Anderson of Dover, Del., as the two drivers who died. A third driver, who was not identified, was transported to the hospital with a head trauma injury.
Gene Blaum, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the southbound lanes of I-476, shut down around 10 a.m. following the collision, were reopened shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday.
Rain, combined with temperatures hovering just at or below the freezing mark, made road conditions particularly hazardous, according to Blaum.
"Where the pavement temperature is cold enough, we have areas where the precipitation hitting the pavement has resulted in the flash freeze situation we find ourselves in here in the Philadelphia area this morning," he said Sunday.
PennDOT deployed 146 trucks throughout southeastern Pennsylvania between 4 and 5 a.m., and crews planned to continue salting until temperatures rose, Blaum said.
"We will keep them out until there is no longer a threat of any further ice conditions," he said.
Still, road conditions were treacherous throughout the region, particularly along a stretch of Rt. 309 south of Quakertown, which was icy around 8 a.m. Blaum said it was impossible to uniformly eliminate icy conditions on the 11,000 miles of roadway covered by PennDOT in the five-county region.
"I can't tell you when a particular roadway was salted," he said.
He added that rain freezing on pavement "is the most difficult weather event to deal with. We would prefer to have six to eight inches of snow rather than" icy roads, he said.
Montgomery County alone was dealing with at least 75 traffic incidents Sunday morning, according to the Department of Public Safety. And in Bucks County, there were multiple accidents involving EMS vehicles.
Tow truck operator Charles Stead, of Tommy's Towing in Wayne, said he's had six trucks out since 6 a.m., and they've responded to more than 30 calls for accidents.
He said the roads he's servicing off old Route 30 are "terrible."
"Everybody should stay home," Stead said.
Over on I-95, multi-vehicle accidents temporarily shuttered northbound lanes between exit 20 and exit 22, southbound lanes between exit 46B and U.S. 1 South, and northbound lanes between the Philadelphia International Airport exit and exit 17.
All those crashes were cleared by 2 p.m., but traffic remained backed-up.
On the Blue Route in West Conshohocken, another multi-vehicle crash northbound at exit 16B initially led to a ramp closure Sunday morning. Traffic was restored around 10:30 a.m., though residual delays persisted.
At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, emergency room physicians treated a small number of injuries from slip and fall accidents early Sunday, said spokeswoman Gail Benner. But the numbers were small, she said, likely because it was a weekend day and, given the bad weather, people took the opportunity to stay home
In New Jersey, Cooper University Hospital spokeswoman Lori Shaffer said the hospital had seen an unusually high volume of auto accident victims and pedestrians who had slipped on icy surfaces.
Both its emergency room and its trauma center, which handles severely injured auto accident victims along with other maladies, were seeing increased number of patients, she said. During periods of bad weather, Shaffer said, the hospital typically puts on more staff in anticipation of an increased patient load.
"We prepare in advance and are well equipped to deal with these surges," she said.
A total of 428 accidents were reported on roads patrolled by the New Jersey State Police, police said around noon. State police also responded to at least 186 vehicle-related requests for assistance throughout the state during the same time period.
Rising waters threatened to compound traffic headaches Sunday afternoon, as the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties, as well as parts of South Jersey and northern Delaware.
Between one and 1.75 inches of rain were expected to fall by 3 p.m., likely leading to flooding along small streams and ponding on highways, streets, underpasses, and other low-lying urban areas with poor drainage.
Cobbs Creek, in West Philadelphia, rose three feet in three hours and was expected to flood Sunday afternoon, according to the warning, issued shortly before 11:45 a.m. and in effect through 5:30 p.m.
Though the precipitation was predicted to slow down in the mid-afternoon, small streams could continue to rise, causing residual flooding to linger into the evening, the warning stated.
SEPTA bus service resumed at 11 a.m. after it was suspended due to the icy conditions. Passengers might experience residual delays, the transit agency said.
SEPTA regional rail service was running on or close to schedule Sunday afternoon, following a fire involving a golf cart that caused the evacuation of Suburban Station earlier in the morning.
Due to high water conditions, the Route 15 trolley was not stopping at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue. Route 102 trolleys were replaced with shuttle buses between Collingdale and Sharon Hill stations Sunday morning, but service was restored around 5:15 p.m., SEPTA said.
More information about transit line delays and cancellations was made available on SEPTA's website.
The Benjamin Franklin, Commodore Barry, Betsy Ross and Walt Whitman bridges reopened, following congestion-creating closures Sunday morning. The number of lanes open on each bridge and speed restrictions varied, according to the Delaware River Port Authority.
Police and transportation officials warned drivers to stay off the roads, unless travel is necessary.
Blaum, of PennDOT, cautioned those who are out to drive at a reduced speed, to allow for extra time to reach their destination, and to travel with plenty of distance between themselves and surrounding vehicles.
"It's so difficult because you think the pavement is just wet, but it may be an icy condition - you can't tell," Blaum said. "That's the term 'black ice,' where the roadways seem wet but they could be iced over in certain areas. It has the potential to cause serious problems."
Philly.com staff writer Alex Wigglesworth and Inquirer staff writers Laura McCrystal, Mari Schaefer and Chris Mondics contributed to this report.