PORTLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of vehicles were involved in a pileup on a Michigan interstate Saturday afternoon that closed the freeway near the town of Portland.
Michigan State Police (MSP) said between 50 and 100 vehicles were involved in the massive crash on I-96, believed to have been caused by whiteout conditions. It happened shortly before 4:45 p.m. near Knox Road in Portland Township, which is about 20 miles outside Lansing.
“It was just chaos everywhere,” said Josephine Davidson and Emily Anderson, who both live in Grand Rapids and were involved in the pileup.
Around 5:30 p.m., MSP said all lanes of I-96 in the area were shut down.
It took several hours for crews to clear all the vehicles away from the scene. Eastbound and westbound lanes between Portland Road and South Grange Road did not reopen until 10:45 p.m., according to MDOT.
“I just remember driving down, looking in the rear-view mirror and just seeing a car fly off the side into the ditch,” Anderson said. “It was honestly like you couldn’t see anything but cars and just parts of cars flying off either way.”
Anderson was driving Davidson’s car from Grand Rapids to Grand Ledge – a trip that ended up being a nightmare.
“It just kind of hit whiteout, and then all of a sudden you couldn’t really see it until you’re about less than 100 feet,” Anderson said. “And you start hitting the brakes and you try to downplay it. We just started sliding out of control and then just kind of plowed through the back of a couple of vehicles.”
They both said that many drivers didn’t have their lights on, making it even harder to see in front of them.
“You could see the car in front of you if they had their lights on, but a lot of cars wouldn’t,” Davidson said. “The car in front of us was white, and they didn’t have any lights on. So you could only see them if you’re that close.”
Anderson said she felt “nothing but panic” as she lost control of the vehicle.
“There was nothing you could do to slow down before hitting the cars,” she said.
She was eventually able to get to the side of the road by pulling the vehicle in between two other cars that she hit. Her tire was slashed so she couldn’t go any further.
Even after she brought her vehicle to a stop, she saw chaos all around her as the pileup only got worse.
“I’m looking around, there’s cars going off the side,” Davidson said.
They both estimated there were 100 vehicles involved in the pileup.
“We couldn’t see the back of it,” Davidson said. “I think that stretched for at least a mile behind us, and I couldn’t see the front of it.”
MSP reported a few injuries, but no one was seriously hurt.
“I was just hoping we didn’t flip, hoping we didn’t roll,” Anderson said. “Luckily we didn’t.”
As first responders sorted through the wreckage, drivers waited in their vehicles for hours. Like many others, Davidson’s vehicle is totaled.
“The front bumper is kind of dragging on the ground,” Davidson said. “My tires slashed. The passenger door won’t open. I think there was a little bit of damage on the other side on the driver’s side. The bumper was missing. The headlight’s smashed.”
“We thought, ‘Oh, it’s probably just a mile walk, we can make it,’” Davidson said. “But it was so slippery. I almost slipped just walking.”
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After Davidson and Anderson waited in their car for two hours, they decided to walk off the interstate to the exit ramp.
Davidson’s mom picked them up near the exit ramp, finally ending a trip they never imagined would go like this.
“I’m hoping that my mom buys us dinner,” Davidson said with a smile.
A warming and family reunification center was set up at a nearby church for anyone involved in the crash. Buses transported people there.
Tow trucks took vehicles off the interstate to a different church in Portland, Michigan. Some were heavily damaged.