four lifeless in 46-car pileup in Ohio as storm hits Christmas weekend

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Four people were killed and others injured in a 46-car pile-up on the Ohio Turnpike on Friday, authorities said, part of a fearsome winter storm that blasted extreme weather across much of the United States early in the Christmas weekend.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol said it was responding to an accident Friday afternoon in the east lanes of the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County. Authorities said the crash was the result of “white-out conditions” that left dozens of vehicles, including at least 15 commercial vehicles, mangled and stacked on the snow-covered highway. Photos released by highway patrol show 18 wheels wrinkled and cars reversed for miles, with some stuck in the median.

Sergeant Ryan Purpura of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said in video posted to Twitter late Friday that four people died and many were injured in the pile-up. The names of the victims were not released and authorities did not say how many were injured.

“This is a stark reminder of what can happen when you get behind the wheel and try to drive in poor weather conditions,” Purpura said in the video. “We ask that you do not travel unless you absolutely have to. If you must travel, we ask that you take precautions, take it slow, be patient, fasten your seat belt and increase your distance.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) echoed authorities in urging people to stay off the streets.

“Our condolences go out to the families who lost a loved one during this severe weather situation in Ohio,” he said in a statement. “Please continue to stay at home if possible and be vigilant in these extremely dangerous road conditions.”

Ohio’s deadly pile-up was a result of a winter storm that the National Weather Service has described as “once in a generation” and is expected to sweep a 2,000-mile path through much of the country by Christmas weekend. Despite more than 200 million Americans being warned of potentially dangerous weather in their area, many travelers defied suggestions to stay home and faced flight cancellations, road closures and suspended train and bus systems.

Nearly 6,000 US flights were canceled on Friday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. Around 1,800 US flights scheduled for Saturday had been canceled as of 10 a.m. Eastern Time, according to FlightAware.

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As people took to the streets for vacation trips, authorities in Ohio, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky reported at least 13 people were killed in crashes on Friday.

In Ohio, officials said the first accidents in the pileup began around 11:45 a.m. Friday, with more cars colliding about 45 minutes later. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, buses were brought in to take people from the crash area to a facility so they could keep warm.

High-speed winds and whiteout conditions are expected in Ohio through the weekend, authorities said, and eastbound lanes of the Ohio Turnpike near Sandusky were closed Saturday morning. Westbound lanes on the turnpike reopened late Friday, nearly 12 hours after the first accident.

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In Sandusky, on the shores of Lake Erie, community members told how they rushed to bring hot food, drink and shelter to people caught in the pile-up.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Lucas Messer, the superintendent of the Clyde-Green Springs Schools, told ABC affiliate WEWS in Cleveland. “It’s pride in our community, in our cities, and in anything we can do to stand up and help, everyone around us is really just how we do business here.”

Robert Clark, who was traveling from Detroit when the winter weather changed his plans, told the TV station that he and his partner “had seconds to get out of the car.”

“We’re just blessed to be here, honestly,” Clark said.

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