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Florida I-75 south of Gainesville reopened after massive pileup

Ten people died when a dozen cars and six trucks collided Sunday in a smoke-enshrouded section of Interstate 75 in Florida. Late Monday morning, Interstate 75 south of Gainesville was reopened

By Mike SchneiderAssociated Press / January 30, 2012

Aerial view of Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Fla. where at least 10 people died as a result of multiple crashes Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012.

(AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Rob C. Witzel)

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Gainesville, Fla.

Updated: 1:30 pm Monday

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Authorities are investigating the cause of a massive pileup early Sunday morning south of Gainesville, Florida, on Interstate 75 , where a long line of cars and trucks collided one after another on a dark highway so shrouded in haze and smoke that drivers were blinded.At least 10 people were killed and another 18 were taken to a nearby hospital, Shands at the University of Florida. As of Sunday night, six patients remained in the trauma center and three others admitted through the emergency room remained.

The interstate had been closed for a time before the accidents because of a mixture of fog and heavy smoke from a brush fire that may have been intentionally set. The decision to reopen it early Sunday will certainly be a focus of investigators, as will the question of how the fire may have started.

Authorities reopened the southbound lanes of I-75 around 11 a.m. Monday, the north-south highway that runs virtually the entire length of Florida. Complicating matters was that some of the road's asphalt melted. The northbound lanes were reopened late Sunday afternoon. (For information on Florida highway closures, click here.)

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"Our standard operating procedure is to get the road open as quickly as possible but let's not forget we have 10 people who are not with us today," Lt. Patrick Riordan, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman, said Sunday evening. "So we are going to take our time assessing the situation."

The pileups happened around 3:45 a.m. Sunday on both sides of I-75. When rescuers first arrived, they could only listen for screams and moans because the poor visibility made it difficult to find victims in wreckage that was strewn for nearly a mile.

At least a dozen cars and six tractor-trailers were involved, and some burst into flames.

Hours later, twisted, burned-out vehicles were scattered across the pavement, with smoke still rising from the wreckage.

Cars appeared to have smashed into the big rigs and, in one case, a motor home. Some cars were crushed beneath the heavier trucks.. One tractor-trailer was burned down to its skeleton, charred pages of books and magazines in its cargo area. And the tires of every vehicle had burned away, leaving only steel belts.

Before Steven Camps hit the fog bank, a friend who was driving ahead of him in a separate vehicle called to warn of the road conditions. The friend said he had just seen an accident and urged Camps to be careful as he approached the Paynes Prairie area, just south of Gainesville.

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