A crash involving a tractor-trailer full of caustic acids on Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak injured at least 11 people and snarled traffic for more than 15 hours Wednesday, a Department of Public Safety spokesman said.
Traffic had been at a standstill in both directions for nearly an hour when DPS opened the westbound lanes.
The eastbound lanes were opened at 3 this morning after the chemical spill was cleaned.
According to DPS, the commercial tractor-trailer was traveling east when it moved from the right lane into the left near Picacho Peak and hit a Tucson family’s car in the left lane.
When the car was struck, it ran off the road and into the dirt median, then swerved back into the eastbound lanes, where it became lodged beneath the tractor-trailer.
The truck was full of more than 1,500 gallons of hazardous chemicals. The accident occurred at milepost 219 at 2:13 p.m, in the shadow of the landmark rocky spire.
Many of the trailer’s 55- and 80-gallon drums of three types of corrosive chemicals – sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide and phosphoric acid – burst upon impact and spewed into the freeway lanes. The drums that did not break burned when the car caught fire and ignited the semitrailer, DPS Officer Frank Torrez said.
The family in the car, a mother, father and their 15-month-old child, were hurled from their car upon impact. Police did not identify the family or the driver of the truck.The family, along with the Minnesota driver of the tractor-trailer, was hospitalized, Torrez said, adding that at least seven rescue workers were treated for inhalation injuries related to the chemical fire.
“The baby got some chemical burns on his skin,” Torrez said, adding that all those injured had chemical burns through inhalation or otherwise.The rescue workers treated included three Avra Valley Fire Department firefighters and at least four DPS emergency workers.
All were in moderate to severe condition Wednesday night, except the Tucson mother, who was critical, Torrez said.
DPS routed eastbound traffic onto the frontage road at the Picacho Peak exit and back on the interstate at Red Rock.
Special trucks from Chandler were needed to clean up the massive chemical mess, Torrez said.Initial reports said the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department attempted to evacuate a nearby RV park, but that was later amended to say people were advised to stay inside their homes.
Not everyone, however, could get back to their homes. RV park resident and winter visitor Fran Scraper, 69, of Washington state was returning from a Casa Grande shopping trip. A deputy told her around 3 p.m. she may have to wait up to 10 hours to get back into the park.
“When he said 10 hours, I thought ‘Oh crap,’ “she said, adding she had a small, handicapped dog who was suffering in the hot car.