Nightly News   |  January 30, 2012

Heavy smoke, fog led to deadly Florida pileup

911 calls reveal the chaos that resulted after about 20 cars and trucks slammed into each other in a series of accidents on I-75 south of Gainesville. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. it was such a bad accident, so severe, that the folks we usually associate with airline disasters, investigators from the national transportation safety board are on the scene to investigate this one. people were just driving on the interstate when it happened. suddenly, vehicles driving straight ahead plowed instead into a horrible scene. a massive wreck that left an awful death toll and scarred that section of roadway along with all the lives connected to it. tonight, ten people are dead, 18 people injured. all because drivers were blinded by a brushfire on i-75 in the state of florida. the state in the news these days for politics, where they are mourning these victims tonight. nbc's mark potter starts us off from there this evening.

>> reporter: authorities say heavy smoke from a wildfire mixed with fog led to the horrific string of accidents which about 20 cars and trucks slammed into each other, some catching fire. the pile-ups occurred in the pitch dark around 4:00 a.m . sunday. terrified callers to 911 describe one crash after the other.

>> oh, my god. oh, my god. what is going on?

>> we are getting help out there okay?

>> oh, my goodness.

>> how many vehicles have been involved?

>> we cannot see, ma'am. this is the third one already.

>> reporter: in the entangled mess, rescue workers had to cut many victims from the wreckage. steven camp survived being hit twice and saw another driver get killed.

>> it almost looked like a terrorist attack. you could see the pain, uncertainty and despair everybody had on their face.

>> reporter: i-75 was shut down all day sunday causing miles-long traffic jams. today firefighters work to extinguish still-burning hot spots the florida patrol face questions about why the smoky highway was open sunday morning when visibility was so poor.

>> it's impossible to see. the haze is and the smoke, it's very thick.

>> reporter: the highway had briefly been shut down earlier that morning, but was reopened.

>> we made an assessment and came to the conclusion the road was safe to travel. that's when we opened the road up.

>> reporter: with the crash investigation, officials are also trying to determine what caused the wildfire, and whether it was arson. mark potter , nbc news, miami.