Marc Milam said his all-wheel drive car allowed him to maneuver among "all the cars that were crashing" around him.
"It happened really fast, and it was over with," said Milam, who was headed to work for an auto supplier when the pileup started.
Authorities quickly called in as many ambulances that were available to transport victims to area hospitals. Rescue crews went vehicle to vehicle in the search for survivors and to provide aid.
At least 13 people were transported to hospitals, while others were treated at the scene, Shaw said.
It took more than six hours before the freeway's southbound lanes were reopened. Shaw said it could be a day or more before investigators identify which vehicles were involved in the initial wreck that spawned the other crashes.
The bad weather also was blamed for at least two other pileups Thursday in the state. U.S. 23 in Mundy Township near Flint was closed for hours after about 33 vehicles crashed during a sudden snow squall. In southwest Michigan, eight tractor-trailers and six cars crashed on I-94, closing the westbound lanes to traffic for hours at Paw Paw.
A similar pileup west of Indianapolis involving more than 40 vehicles that closed Interstate 70 in both directions. Authorities said five people remained hospitalized Thursday night, including on in critical condition.
Associated Press writers Mike Householder, David N. Goodman, Jeff Karoub and David Aguilar in Detroit, and Pamela Engel in Plainfield, Ind., contributed to this story.