Highway officials asked Christmas revelers to stay off the roads Tuesday as freezing rain and sleet pelted Oklahoma and caused a 21-vehicle pileup that injured several people and snarled other motorists on a pair of cross-country interstates.
Interstate 40 was closed for more than five hours at its intersection with I-35 near downtown Oklahoma City after 10 accidents involving 21 vehicles. Both highways are major thoroughfares, but traffic was light because most holiday travelers were already at their destinations.
A powerful storm system expected to bring blizzard-like conditions to Arkansas later Tuesday swept into the Southern Plains overnight. Some parts of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow and blizzard conditions were possible from northeastern Arkansas through the Missouri Bootheel and into southern Illinois and Indiana from Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning.
The pileup in Oklahoma City began about 3 a.m. when a semitrailer jackknifed on Interstate 40 on a bridge over the Oklahoma River, state Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said. Other vehicles hit the semi, and then other semis slid into them, sandwiching the vehicles, she said.
"Some of them, it took the entire top of the car off, like they slid under a semi," Randolph said.
The pileup included 10 separate crashes with 21 vehicles, including three semis, she said. Several people were taken to hospitals, but Randolph didn't have details on their injuries or conditions.
The highway patrol shut down the interstate near its junction with I-35 for more than five hours and diverted traffic while troopers worked to clear the accident. Interstate 40 also was closed near Clinton in western Oklahoma because of overturned vehicles there and in eastbound lanes about 10 miles east of Shawnee because of a jackknifed tractor-trailer.
All of Interstate 40, which bisects the state from east to west, was slick because rain was freezing as soon as it hit the pavement, Randolph said. Traffic was light because most people had already reached their holiday destinations, "but the ones that are out there are having trouble staying on the road," she said.
"We're really discouraging travel," she added. "If you don't have to get out, don't."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.