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Black Ice Causes Accidents on I-89

Black ice turned the interstates into a treacherous slip-n-slide last night as cars spun off the road in parts of the Upper Valley.

Interstate 89 was slick after an ice squall hit the area at 6:30 p.m. between Concord and Lebanon, said Eric Scott, a shift supervisor for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

“We call that a spike in the weather. There is really nothing you can do to predict it,” Scott said. “It’s mother nature doing what it does at her worst. All we can do is react to that.”

On a stretch of I-89 from Grantham to Lebanon, cars slowly followed police cars that tried to lead traffic at a slow pace. Among those stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic were plows, salt trucks and a Grantham ambulance.

New Hampshire DOT tweeted at 7 p.m. that there were multiple accidents on I-89 northbound and southbound between Warner and Lebanon. “Possible black ice in localized areas. Slow down,” the tweet said.

In the southbound lane about a mile north of exit 14 there was deep traffic and a pick-up truck in a ditch on the side of the road, as well as fruit and broken cardboard boxes strewn along the interstate. Just a few feet ahead, another pick-up truck was stuck in the grass and firefighters could be seen running between the cars.

In the median two more cars had slid off and a police car sat nearby.

Cars slowly passed the scene traveling at 10 to 15 mph because the ice continued for miles.

The scene on the northbound side of the road was the same with numerous cars stuck in an embankment.

Scott sent about 10 DOT crews out in the Upper Valley section of the interstate, and a crew can have between six and 12 people working for it, he said.

In many cases, traffic was so tight that snow plows had to have police escorts along the side of the road to get them through the mass of cars. When traffic is too bad, plows and salt trucks might even go over the median, Scott said.

The Lebanon Police Department sent at least two ambulances to help, while Enfield had a fire truck, rescue vehicle and a utility pickup working the interstates with the state police.

Enfield Capt. Richard Martin said there were three accidents with injuries. All three people were taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and while Martin didn’t know how bad the injuries were, he said all the patients were conscious.

While a few tow trucks could be seen, there weren’t enough to go around as one car sat alone in a median embankment near exit 14 with the engine still running and its lights turned on.

By 8:30 p.m. traffic had cleared in both the northbound and southbound travel lanes near exit 15. The continued sight of cars stuck in the snow and service workers directing cars around emergency vehicles, however, was enough to encourage cars to travel at a crawl with their flashers on.

Once in Lebanon, the interstates were clear of accidents and the road looked almost dry. Still, there was a flashing traffic sign near exit 18 heading northbound that said, “Slow down. Black ice possible.”

Lebanon Cpl. Josh Alden said that there were areas of slick spots in Lebanon that highway crews had to salt, but he said there were no accidents last night within the city’s borders. The black ice seemed to be mostly contained to the interstate.

While I-89 was covered in black ice, just miles down the road in Enfield, the town roads were clear, if not dry, Martin said. The Vermont State Police in Bethel didn’t report any weather related accidents last night.

Scott said the better conditions were due to the hours that DOT personnel spent salting and plowing the roads. Scott said that while fewer accidents were being reported, his crews would continue working late into the night and he couldn’t predict when he’d bring them all in.

By 9 p.m., most of the accidents were clear along I-89 from Lebanon to exit 14. Around the same time, New Hampshire DOT posted a new tweet that said I-89 from Lebanon to Warner was clear of accidents in the north and southbound lanes. “Traffic is flowing. Drive safe,” the tweet said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.