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4 killed in 46-car pileup in Ohio as weather upends holiday weekend

A Friday pileup on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County left at least four people dead. (Ohio Highway Patrol)
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A 46-car pileup on the Ohio Turnpike left four people dead and others injured Friday, according to authorities, part of a fearsome winter storm that blasted extreme weather throughout much of the United States to start the Christmas weekend.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol said it responded to a crash Friday afternoon in the eastbound lanes of the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County. Authorities said the crash was a result of “white-out conditions” that left dozens of vehicles, including at least 15 commercial trucks, mangled and piled up on the snowy interstate. Photos released by the highway patrol show crumpled 18-wheelers and cars backed up for miles, with some stuck in the median.

Sgt. Ryan Purpura of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said in a video posted to Twitter late Friday that four people had died, with many injured from the pileup. The names of the victims were not released, and authorities did not specify how many were injured.

“This is a stark reminder of what can happen when you get behind the wheel and try to drive in bad weather conditions,” Purpura said in the video. “We ask that you do not travel unless you absolutely have to. If you do have to travel, we ask that you take precautions, take it slow, be patient, wear your safety belt and increase your following distance.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) echoed authorities in urging people to stay off the road.

“Our sympathy goes to those families who have lost a loved one during this severe weather situation in Ohio,” he said in a statement. “Please continue to remain home if at all possible and be vigilant with these extremely dangerous road conditions.”

The fatal pileup in Ohio was an effect of a winter storm that the National Weather Service has described as “once in a generation” and is expected to carve out a 2,000-mile path across much of the country through the Christmas weekend. Despite more than 200 million Americans being under alerts for potentially hazardous weather in their area, many travelers who defied suggestions to stay home and faced flight cancellations, road closures and train and bus systems that had shut down.

Nearly 6,000 U.S. flights were canceled Friday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. Roughly 1,800 U.S. flights scheduled for Saturday had been canceled as of 10 a.m. Eastern time, according to FlightAware.

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As people took to the roads for holiday travel, authorities in Ohio, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky reported that at least 13 people were killed in crashes on Friday.

In Ohio, officials said the initial crashes in the pileup began about 11:45 a.m. Friday, with additional cars crashing into each other about 45 minutes later. Buses were brought in to take people from the crash area to a facility so they could stay warm, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

High-speed winds and whiteout conditions are expected in Ohio through the weekend, authorities said, and the eastbound lanes of the Ohio Turnpike near Sandusky were closed Saturday morning. Westbound lanes on the turnpike reopened late Friday, nearly 12 hours after the initial crash.

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In Sandusky, on the shores of Lake Erie, community members recounted how they rushed to bring warm food, drinks and shelter to those caught up in the pileup.

“This is just kind of what we do,” Lucas Messer, the superintendent of Clyde-Green Springs Schools, told ABC affiliate WEWS in Cleveland. “This is pride in our community, in our towns and anything we can do to step up and help, anyone around us really is just kind of the way we do business here.”

Robert Clark, who was traveling from Detroit when the winter weather changed his plans, told the TV station that he and his partner “had seconds to get out of the car.”

“We’re just blessed to be here, honestly,” Clark said.