SUMMERVILLE — A 26-vehicle pileup during an afternoon thunderstorm Monday on Interstate 26 sent more than a dozen people to the hospital and clogged the highway in both directions for several hours.
Many of the patients were taken away on a Berkeley County EMS mass-casualty bus. Authorities said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.
Rush-hour traffic was at a standstill for so long that some people shut off their cars and fell asleep or got out and walked around.
Motorists desperate to get off the highway drove across ditches and made paths through the woods to a frontage road. Several were stuck in the mud.
Mathew Profit, 55, of Summerville, was heading home for dinner and was scheduled to attend Bible study, but by 8 p.m. he had been stuck on the interstate for more than two hours. He stood outside his car with several other men, watching as people tried to pull vehicles out of the mud.
He called his wife to let her know he'd be late.
"I just told her to keep the food warm; it might be awhile," he said.
As the rain pounded down about 5:20 p.m. near Summerville, some vehicles moving in the westbound lanes near exit 199 slowed down. Others did not, and it started a chain reaction, S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Paul Brouthers said.
Bob Mixter, Berkeley County EMS director, has pretty much seen it all, but not all at once, he said. He and at least a dozen other EMS workers arrived to find about 60 people had been involved in the crash. They ranged from 3-weeks-old to the elderly, he said.
There were cars, trucks, sport-utility vehicles and tractor-trailers everywhere, he said. Some were hit from the back. Some were flipped over or turned around, and some were down an embankment.
"An accident of this magnitude is rather unusual," he said.
Mixter said 14 people were injured and had to be taken to Trident Medical Center. Most injuries involved the neck and back. He said no one appeared to be seriously hurt.
"The size and the speed of the incident that occurred, to have no one seriously injured is a godsend," he said.
Another accident in the same vicinity injured two people.
The hospital was treating 16 patients late Monday. All were in stable condition, said Melanie Williams, assistant vice president of marketing for Trident Health System.
By 9 p.m., the accident scene mostly was cleared away, and traffic was moving again. Troopers were investigating whether anyone would be charged.