Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Tule Fog

It happens every year -- the California Tule Fog sneaks in - sometimes causing zero visibility. It is something that has scared me since I was a child. And every single year, there is at least one disastrous pileup on our Freeway 99. Usually I try to avoid traveling too early or too late - waiting for the fog to lift. There is nothing worse than driving along and suddenly hitting a white wall of nothing. I remember as a young nursing student - in 1978 - coming upon such an accident - and upon arriving at Tulare County Hospital, being assigned to care for a patient who had broken his back in the accident - and he turned out to be a 1976 classmate from my school.

Earlier today I was talking to my newspaper photographer John Tipton when he came upon this horrible pileup. So sad.

***** also*****

Micky Padilla of Porterville was driving with his family to a baptism in Fresno when he slammed into a Nissan Maxima.

"It was just bang, bang all around us," Padilla said. "I can't believe I still have my wife and my kids. Someone was looking out for us."

Massive Pileup Closes California Highway

Posted: 2007-11-03 19:08:31
Filed Under: Nation News
FRESNO, Calif. (Nov. 3) - More than 100 cars and trucks crashed on a fog-shrouded freeway Saturday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more, the California Highway Patrol said.

Eighteen big rigs were involved in the massive pileup on Highway 99 just south of Fresno as patches of dense fog obscured visibility on the heavily traveled roadway, CHP officials said.

Photo Gallery: Highway 99 Pileup

Gary Kazanjian, AP

The wreckage of more than 100 cars is seen here on a Fresno, Calif., highway after dense fog led to a pileup that killed at least two people.

A 6-year-old boy and a 28-year-old man traveling in separate vehicles were killed in the chain-reaction collisions around 7:45 a.m. , said CHP Officer Paul Solorzano, Jr., who described it as one of the Central Valley's worst freeway crashes in years.

"It looked like something out of a movie, walking up and seeing all the cars mangled and crushed," Solorzano said.

Rescuers had to extract several people trapped in the wreckage, and paramedics transported more than three dozen patients to the hospital with injuries, Fresno City Fire Department spokesman Ken Shockley said.

The freeway's northbound lanes around Clovis Avenue were shut down indefinitely as investigators worked to determine the cause of the crash. Traffic backed up for miles south of the wreckage. Southbound lanes remained opened.

Two of the big rigs leaked 90 gallons of diesel fuel onto the freeway when their fuel tanks ruptured, but the diesel was contained. No hazardous materials were spilled, CHP officials said.

Hours after the accident, the freeway was littered with smashed cars and trucks, broken glass, auto parts and blood. A big rig carrying stacked crates of live turkeys was stranded in the middle of the normally busy highway.

Crash victims gathered on the freeway shoulder near the wreckage, waiting to be interviewed by investigators.

Cindy Ramirez, 21, of Selma, said her purple Mazda pickup truck was rear-ended as she was driving to her job washing windows in Shaver Lake.

"Everybody was trying to miss everybody, but it was impossible not to get hit," Ramirez said. "I'm fine physically, but I keep thinking about all of the things that could have happened."

Omar Macias, 33, was hauling asphalt from Bakersfield to Elk Grove when his truck was caught in the pileup.

"I got out to check on people at first, and then I heard more crashes around me, so I got right back in," said Macias of Bakersfield. "I feel OK, but I don't what OK means right now. People got hurt."

Even as investigators interviewed dazed drivers on the roadside, crews began sprinkling sand on the freeway and sweeping up shattered glass.

Thick seasonal fog known as "Tule fog" typically occurs in Central California in the late fall and winter. Two people died along a nearby stretch of fog-blanketed Highway 99 in an 87-vehicle pileup in 2002, and another section of the roadway several miles south was the scene of a 74-vehicle crash that left two dead nearly a decade ago.

"There was probably two-foot visibility in the fog when I got here. It was really bad," said Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other."

Micky Padilla of Porterville was driving with his family to a baptism when they heard the sound of metal screeching, struggled to brake and slammed into a Nissan Maxima.

Padilla ran out and found a man bleeding in a white pickup. The man was still breathing minutes later when firefighters arrived, but later died on the highway, Padilla said.

"It was just bang, bang all around us," Padilla said, shaking his head as he stood next to a puddle of blood on the blacktop. "I can't believe I still have my wife and my kids. Someone was looking out for us."

Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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