State of Emergency After 29-Vehicle Pileup

Governor makes declaration in L.A. County after fiery crash where 3 died.

Oct. 14, 2007 — -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County today after a freeway pile-up blazed for hours, killed at least three people and shut down a major traffic artery.

The chain-reaction accident that ignited the inferno occurred Friday night in a tunnel on Interstate 5 at the Antelope Valley Freeway north of Los Angeles. It's one of the nation's busiest highways, a major route connecting northern and southern California as well as a major commuting road for Los Angeles.

The crash caused an intense fire, damaging the freeway structure and closing the interstate.

Three are confirmed dead, including an infant, and at least 10 others were injured.

At least 29 vehicles were involved in the crash -- including six big-rig trucks.

Flames burned for so long that bits of concrete exploded onto the highway and trucks were reduced to charred skeletons. The vehicles burned at an estimated 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours.

"The fire burned in a very intense state for approximately four hours and basically consumed everything that was burnable," said John Tripp of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Truck drivers like Tony White, who use the tunnel regularly, were not surprised it was the site of a devastating pileup.

"The tunnel is very dangerous for the four-wheelers and the truckers," White said.

When it's raining, like it was Friday night when the crash happened, drivers said the roadway gets slick.

"It stresses me out to go through that part," White said, "because I'm always waiting for something to happen."

Today investigators picked through the scorched wreckage of the big-rig trucks, including tire rims and truck axles, hoping to pinpoint what caused the pileup. Engineers got their first good look at the walls and ceiling of the burned 550-foot-long underpass.

Meanwhile, commuters are bracing for a traffic nightmare at the start of the work week.

With miles of Interstate 5 shut down, traffic has been snarled on surrounding roads all weekend as drivers looked for alternative routes. One driver told ABC News it took him three hours to go five miles.

The tunnel will be closed indefinitely, but transportation officials hope to open the rest of the roadway by Wednesday. That means Monday's commute will be no picnic for the thousands of people who use the road to get to work.

"The walls of the tunnel are fairly heavily damaged," said Doug Failing of the California Department of Transportation. "None of the rebar appears to be melted, damaged at this point in time. But it's completely separated from the walls in a number of areas, so we lose vertical support when that happens."

In 1994, portions of the roadway were shut down for several months after an earthquake.

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