Al Ain: At least 14 people were injured, one seriously, in a 57-vehicle pile-up on Thursday morning near Abu Samra in Al Ain, an eerie reminder of the massive Ghantoot mishap that occurred several years ago.
The Thursday morning pile-up was the largest in Al Ain’s modern history, according to the police.
The UAE’s biggest such accident took place on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway near Ghantoot in 2008 and involved 250 vehicles. Three people were killed and more than 300 injured.
The cause for both accidents was poor visibility in thick winter fog.
“Luckily, this time there are no fatalities, though some people were injured,” said a police officer.
The Abu Samra pile-up occurred in both directions of the highway.
Police said 39 vehicles rammed into each other on the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain side of the highway and 18 others collided on the Al Ain-Abu Dhabi side of the road, some 40 kilometres west of downtown Al Ain.
Police patrols, ambulances and civil defence responded quickly to rescue the injured.
Preliminary investigations revealed that drivers were not keeping enough distance between each other even with the low visibility, said Major Salah Abdullah Al Humairi, chief of Al Ain Traffic Police.
Not enough space between cars and a failure to slow down led to the mishap, he added.
The pile-up also led to the complete closure of this major artery between two main cities of Abu Dhabi for several hours. Long queues were seen on the highway and traffic police resorted to alternate arrangements.
Traffic was redirected from key interchanges such as Rimah and Al Yahar bridges to other roads.
Police also issued immediate traffic alerts on social media and radio stations, warning drivers of thick fog, the pile-up and the road’s closure. Motorists were advised to follow traffic rules in the foggy conditions and take alternate routes to commute between the two cities.
“Safe distance during these conditions must be even greater than normal,” said Major Al Humairi.
Speed limits must be abided by on all internal and external roads, and in case drivers were completely unable to see clearly ahead, they must stop their vehicles on the side of the road, and turn on their hazard lights, he added.
He also warned heavy vehicle drivers to refrain from taking their trucks on the road until the fog lifted and clearer visibility returned.
The police later removed damaged vehicles and cleared off debris to reopen the highway at around 12.20pm.
An eyewitness, Ahmad Sharif, said he was not sure how many cars were involved.
“It was total chaos,” said Sharif, adding that people were running to different cars and pulling people out to safety.
He said the visibility was almost down to zero but even then some people were driving at a high speed, posing a risk to themselves and other road users.
Kishore Anand, another motorists who was coming from Abu Dhabi, said it was a horrific scene.
“It was an unexpected fog and I did not realise the situation until I heard a thud and saw two damaged cars right in the middle of the road in front of me,” he said.
He said he immediately stopped his car on the shoulder of the road and rushed to pull out the injured passengers.
“Soon after, I heard police and ambulance sirens thinking that it could be a pile-up,” said Anand.
Waleed Abu Khalid, another commuter, said that there was long queue of vehicles near Al Saad.
“Police had diverted the traffic towards Suwaihan Road saying the road is closed due to an accident,” he said.
Fog is a usual phenomenon on UAE highways, particularly in the winter, and it often causes problems for motorists.
Hundreds of accidents have been reported in the past due to the poor early morning visibility owing to the fog. The area between Abu Samra and Al Khattam is notorious for thick patches of fog.