GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lake-effect snow and slippery conditions caused a slew of car crashes across West Michigan Tuesday, including a series of pileups that closed the entirety of I-96 in Ottawa County for a time.
The dangerous road conditions prompted officials to advise residents to stay off the roads unless they must travel. If you do have to head out, budget extra time for your trip, go slowly and at least triple the distance between you and the car in front of you.
At least three multicar crashes and several smaller crashes, including pileups at Marne and Coopersville, caused closures on I-96 in Ottawa County Tuesday afternoon. Both directions were closed throughout the county for a while; all lanes had reopened around 7 p.m.
A sheriff’s deputy at the scene said there were too many cars involved to provide an immediate count.
At least two people sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the crash near Marne. The deputy didn’t have information about injuries in the other crashes.
Ottawa County dispatchers said school buses are being called to the scene to shelter more than 100 people who are involved in the crashjes; among them were people from 13 vehicles at the Marne scene. Those people were taken to Berlin Baptist Church at 14141 State St. in Marne. One man told 24 Hour News 8 he was forced to sit in his car for some two hours after the wreck; he spent the time reading his Bible.
The deputy said there were whiteout conditions, the road was icy and wind was causing drifting across the highway.
Some drivers said that as Michiganders, they are accustomed to the snowy conditions and often ignore authorities’ advice to stay off the roads. This time, they said, is different than the others.
20+ VEHICLES, MSP CRUISER IN M-6 PILEUP
Around 10 a.m., at least 24 vehicles, including multiple semi-trucks and a Michigan State Police cruiser, were involved in a pileup on M-6 east of Kalamazoo Avenue in Gaines Township, according to the Dutton Fire Department. At least four fire departments responded.
Several drivers were pinned in their vehicles and had to be freed. At least eight people were hospitalized, the fire department said. Their injuries ranged in severity.
VIDEO: M-6 Smashup — “Are you okay?” — Man goes car to car to check on those involved in pileup. 📹 via Lenny Venneman. The @WOODTV Story: https://t.co/qYJnOGBt5r #wmiwx #miwx #snowstorm2019 pic.twitter.com/UXbcJnDYdo— Leon Hendrix (@LeonHendrix) January 29, 2019
Firefighters said there were whiteout conditions at the time of the crash.
Both directions of M-6 were closed for hours as crews worked to clear the scene. Authorities reopened the highway shortly after 1:30 p.m.
AT LEAST 15 VEHICLES IN I-196 PILEUP
Ottawa County dispatchers said around 9:30 a.m., at least 15 vehicles were involved in a pileup on I-196 in Zeeland Township. It’s unclear if there are any injuries.
Eastbound I-196 at Byron Road near Zeeland was closed for hours as crews worked to remove vehicles from the scene. The westbound lanes were also closed for several hours, but the highway has since reopened in both directions.
MAN HIT BY CAR IN DALTON TOWNSHIP
A 63-year-old Whitehall man was hospitalized in critical condition after being hit by a pickup truck with a snowplow blade on the front.
It happened around 2:20 p.m. on southbound US-31 south of Riley Thompson Road. Michigan State Police say the Whitehall man had pulled over onto the shoulder and gotten out of his car. The pickup truck driver tried to slow down, but lost control on the slick road and hit the man. His name was not released later Tuesday.
Authorities say that in most cases, you should stay in your car if you get in a crash along the road. You’re safer within the protection of the vehicle than you are outside.
SERIOUS INJURIES IN CRASH IN RURAL KENT COUNTY
Three people were hospitalized after a driver lost control on slick roads east of Rockford.
The crash happened around 10:20 a.m. on Myers Lake Avenue near Scenic Woods in Cannon Township. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department said a southbound vehicle lost control and crashed into a northbound vehicle.
The three people in the southbound vehicle were hospitalized with serious but not life-threatening injuries. The driver, a 23-year-old Rockford man, had back injuries; one of the passengers, a 31-year-old Rockford woman, sustained back injuries and a broken jaw; and the other passenger, a 33-year-old man from New Mexico, sustained a broken back.
The driver of the northbound vehicle sustained a minor wound to his hand. His passenger wasn’t hurt.
Everyone was wearing their seat belt.
MULTICAR CRASH IN BRUNSWICK
One person was injured in a multicar crash on Maple Island Road south of 60th Street in Sheridan Township. The crash, which happened around 8:40 a.m., was initially reported as a three-car crash, but more vehicles involved were later reported. The exact number of cars involved is unclear.
ROAD CREWS FACE CHALLENGES CLEARING SNOW
Blowing and drifting snow continued to be an issue Tuesday, making it hard for crews to clear the roads.
Northbound US-131 between 116th Avenue at Martin and 142nd Avenue to Dorr was shut down completely Tuesday evening due to terrible road conditions. Officials weren’t going to even consider reopening it until midnight.
In Kent County, crews were putting in extra hours and contractors were being called to keep clearing neighborhoods and cul de sacs, according to Jerry Byrne, director of operations for the Kent County Road Commission. The road commission is advising drivers to take it slow even on paved roads because they may be icy.
Kalamazoo Director of Public Services James Baker told 24 Hour News 8 city plows have been running continuously since late Sunday night.
“We’ve got just about every truck we have out on the streets,” he said.
Drivers are working 12-hour shifts.
“It’s just been a challenge with the blowing snow and the cold,” he said. “We’re going through and opening up roadways and within six to 12 hours, the snow is blowing right back across them and we just have to continue to retrace our steps, if you will.”
In Montcalm County, plows would remain out for as long as needed. Officials warned of slick spots because salt is not working due to the cold temperatures.
Tuesday’s lake-effect snow comes a day after a large swath of West Michigan, including Grand Rapids, got between 6 and 10 inches of snow Monday.
Drivers who venture out are reminded to turn on their headlights, clear all snow and ice from their vehicles, and stay focused. Michigan law prohibits drivers from “depositing” snow, ice or slush on roads and highways, which can pose a danger to other travelers.
Drivers can track the progress of MDOT snowplows from the safety of home before hitting the road. Some plows are also equipped with cameras, allowing visitors to see the roads as they are cleared. The map is visible on the Mi Drive website.
Snow removal emergencies have been issued in Portage, Sturgis and Benton Harbor. That means that on-street parking is prohibited in those cities so plows can get through. Violators may be towed at their own expense and could face a ticket. Other cities may also be cracking down on on-street parking ordinances to keep the streets clear, so make sure you’re obeying posted signs.
CLOSINGS, STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for the entire state due to the bitterly cold temperatures expected in the next few days.
Several schools canceled Tuesday and Wednesday classes, including Grand Rapids Public Schools and Grand Valley State University, due to the snow and polar vortex. Wind chills will be dangerously cold starting Tuesday and lasting through Thursday morning, with the worst expected Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for most of the area until 1 p.m. Thursday for lake-effect snow and bitterly cold wind chills.
For those without homes, finding shelter has become competitive. Two downtown Kalamazoo churches began opening their doors for overnight guests this week. On Monday night, many at First Baptist Church were turned away after the 30 available cots were taken within minutes.
“One of the things that I think is really encouraging is that this is being seen now as a community problem,” Kalamazoo City Commissioner Don Cooney said during Tuesday’s meeting. “The county has started to step up. The churches are stepping up. The Red Cross is stepping up. This is a community problem.”
“I am grateful for the work this past week, and I’m also really proud, I’m really proud of our city, city’s response to this weather event,” Kalamazoo City Commissioner Shannon Sykes said.
The city opened another temporary shelter Tuesday afternoon at the Douglas Community Center, and several other cities have opened warming centers.
—24 Hour News 8’s Brady Gillum contributed to this report.