Snowy conditions along the busy toll road Wednesday had emergency workers struggling to reach accidents stretched across a 2-mile section in the eastbound lanes between Toledo and Cleveland. Another series of pileups about 10 miles to the east shut down the turnpike's westbound lanes near Sandusky.
Mike Ramella, a salesman from the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, was among the drivers mired in traffic that backed up for 7 miles.
"I'm surrounded," by snow and cars, he told his wife on the phone. He said he was trying to get home to her and their three children, including a newborn, after a business trip to Michigan but was unable to make it to the next exit.
The initial crash involving 16 vehicles left two people dead: Grzegorz Piwowarczyk, 42, a truck driver from Palatine, Ill.; and Hannah Matheny, 20, a passenger in a car from Parma, Ohio, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Thursday.
A second crash involving about 20 vehicles killed Janice Robb, 66, of Schererville, Ind., the patrol said.
A trooper, Andrew Clouser, 29, was pinned between vehicles while responding to the accidents. He was in serious but stable condition at a Toledo hospital Thursday, said Ohio patrol Staff Lt. Anne Ralston.
Turnpike officials said it would take days to clean up the toll road, a busy truck route between Chicago and the East Coast.
People from Chicago to Buffalo, N.Y., to Burlington, Vt., were left wondering whether the start of spring was really next week as the snow fell and temperatures began tumbling.
Northern New England and upstate New York were digging out from some of the heaviest snowfalls Thursday, with 26 inches reported in the small town of Sharon in central Vermont and 17 inches in Warrensburg, N.Y.
Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in northern Illinois and Indiana lost power, and a few hundred flights were canceled at Chicago's airports. The city, where streets and sidewalks had only just dried out for the first time in months, got about 6 inches of snow.
Stephen Rodriguez, National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill., said winds causing heavy, wet snow to blow and drift likely would create a frustrating morning commute on Thursday.
As much as 9.3 inches of snow fell on southern Michigan on Wednesday, causing spin-outs and slide-off crashes. The temperature at Detroit Metropolitan Airport dropped to 4 degrees Thursday morning, breaking the March 13 record low of 5 for Detroit set in 1896.
In downtown South Bend, Ind., where already more than 100 inches of snow has fallen this winter — nearly 3 feet above normal — there was another 4 inches on the ground.
"I'm tired of the snow. Yesterday we had a real nice day and today it's back to winter and cold and terrible," said Debi Ciesielski, who was shoveling snow outside a parking garage as part of her work as a Downtown South Bend Ambassador.
But a few blocks away, Ken Peczkowski, who has owned Griffon Games and Bookstore for 40 years, was happy to be out shoveling the snow again.
"The more the merrier. I'd do it every day for as long as it takes," he said. "It makes me feel alive."