"It looked like utter carnage," Indiana State Police Sgt. Joe Watts, the Putnamville District public information officer, said, describing I-70 when he arrived on the scene.
"This was not your typical crash on Interstate 70," Watts noted. "Normally vehicles of this number are not occurring at the same time but it was icy conditions, snow conditions."
The chain-reaction accident that unfolded shortly after 2 p.m. near an overpass at Hendricks County Road 275 East (Cotton Road) injured an estimated 12 persons as several semis piled up four wide and blocked the westbound lanes of the interstate.
All four lanes of I-70 were ultimately shut down from Plainfield to the Monrovia exit (State Road 39). Traffic was detoured over State Road 39, U.S. 231 and U.S. 40.
"Most (of the injuries) are just bumps and bruises but a couple of them are believed to be serious," First Sgt. Dave Bursten told reporters. "At this time we don't believe any of them to be life-threatening."
A few of the semis were reportedly hauling anti-freeze or fuel, some of which spilled onto the interstate to further compound the crash clean-up. A haz-mat unit was called in to come and clean that up.
"We got the first call at 2:09," Bursten noted, "with multiple vehicles involved in crashes in the east and westbound lanes."
Cause of the accident remains under investigation but authorities believe whiteout conditions and high winds, coupled with drivers operating too fast for those conditions, contributed mightily to the mishap.
"I want to emphasize that thus far," Bursten said, "there's been no loss of life, and we're hoping that remains the same. I am told a couple people are seriously injured."
Besides the initial impact zone, State Police said multiple crashes subsequently occurred when vehicles did not get stopped in time and other vehicles drove into the median or ditches to avoid collisions.
"It was a crash that's not of the norm," Sgt. Watts added, noting that besides weather another factor might have been drivers following too closely in the slick and low-visibility conditions.
Numerous vehicles, despite not being directly involved in the accident, were reportedly stranded along the roadway. Those included a bus of Plainfield High School students fresh from visiting the Indiana State University campus at Terre Haute.
Once the wayward semi was pulled back onto the interstate, the elephants were reloaded into the eastbound trailer that was headed for a circus date.
None of the elephants was reportedly injured. The animals were never loose or running free, authorities said.