31 May 2008

Westbank, LA: 23-car pileup sends 18 to hospital

Times-Picayune - Mud spill in tunnel puts 23 cars into pileup
A dump truck with an unsecured load spilled thick mud in the westbound lanes of the Harvey Tunnel on Friday afternoon, causing a chain-reaction 23-car pileup that sent 18 people to hospitals and shut down the tunnel for hours.

No serious injuries were reported in the accident, which happened about 1 p.m. Witnesses inside the tunnel said they saw the back gate of the dump truck swing open. The slippery clay mud that poured out quickly coated the roadway, causing cars to lose control and careen into the tunnel walls and other vehicles.

Eighteen people, including a pregnant woman, were taken to hospitals, said State Police spokesman Joseph Piglia. It was the largest pileup in the Harvey Tunnel in decades.

Late Friday afternoon, State Police were still trying to locate the driver of the dump truck. Piglia said police had leads from witnesses. The driver could face charges for driving with an unsecured load, and could be held liable for tunnel damage.

Workers from the state Department of Transportation and Development were cleaning up the mud, almost a foot thick in some places, once the cars were removed, using sweepers and sand to break up the chunks. Buzzy Wegener, the highway department's assistant district administrator of operations for New Orleans, said the accident caused no major damage to the tunnel walls.

Call boxes in the tunnel meant to alert State Police during accidents may have been inoperable at the time, the highway department spokesman Mark Lambert said. He said the company that installed the boxes no longer makes the parts, and the agency cannot guarantee they will work.

Both the eastbound and westbound lanes were closed through the afternoon. The eastbound lanes reopened about 5:30 p.m., and westbound lanes were open by early evening.
...What is wrong with this picture? Sure, there's been lots of cases of unsecured loads on the highways since Katrina. A few of them have been fatal, one of which involved an unsecured ladder on a truck traveling on I-12 coming loose and impaling an vehicle traveling behind it like the famous arrow from Robin Hood.

That said, this is different. On the Interstate, you can pull off the road into the median or the ditch if something like that were to happen. Not so in tunnels, most certainly that specific tunnel. More caution is needed when going through a tunnel, not just for yourself but for the people tailing you. I'd love to know just what the hell possessed this idiot to do this. Vehicles like that shouldn't be allowed in the tunnel when there's a perfectly good freeway running overhead. Most places with a shred of common sense ban trucks like that from tunnels, especially with viable alternatives in play such as freeways or even decent arterial roads.

Also, they need to fix the damned callboxes. Not everybody has a cellphone, and even for those who do, not all of them work in a setting like a tunnel. Pay phones may be obsolete, but callboxes still have some purpose. They signal for help in a situation of distress, be it running out of gas or the extreme of a 23-car pileup with multiple injuries. True, they would not have prevented this calamity, but they can prevent others. Let's start thinking ahead, people! Instead of the same mentality that leads to "We'll only put a stoplight up at this intersection when someone dies," they should be proactive and fix something when it breaks!

This same inaction in any form of Louisiana government is also responsible for a NOPD officer plunging into the water when barriers and lighting failed to work as a drawbridge was activated. This time, there were no deaths, thankfully. Next time, we may not be so fortunate.

Still, most of the blame here falls on the nameless idiot who thought taking an unsecured load of mud through a tunnel was the Greatest Idea Ever. He should never be allowed on the road again. I hope that when he's found, he gets sued into the ground and does some jail time.


US 71 said...

Nah, they'll go after the truck company or wherever the mud came from: bigger pockets and all that.

Taralyn said...

I'd be satisfied with them busting the company if it turned out that it was the company's idea to let the Nameless Idiot go out there with an unsecured load... or worse, company orders so they can shave a few bucks. (It's been known to happen in the debris cleanup business.)

Otherwise, I want the Nameless Idiot to burn too.

Froggie said...

At least there's an alternative route there. Could you imagine the mess if it happened in the Belle Chase Tunnel?

As for the callboxes, I agree. It's ludicrous that they keep callboxes from a company that "no longer makes the parts"...