By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - An icy patch of interstate highway in northwest Indiana reopened on Friday after four dozen trucks and passenger vehicles were cleared from a massive crash that killed three people and injured about 20, officials said.
Snow and whiteout conditions contributed to the crash on eastbound Interstate 94 on Thursday afternoon near Michigan City, Indiana. The investigation into the pileup is expected to take at least several weeks, police said.
Forty-six vehicles, including 17 tractor-trailers and two other trucks, crashed on the highway Thursday afternoon, Indiana State Police spokeswoman Ann Wojas said.
The eastbound lanes reopened by midmorning Friday, and officials identified the three people killed in the crash as riding in passenger vehicles.
Killed were Thomas Wolma, 67, and Marilyn Wolma, 65, a husband and wife from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Jerry Dalrymple, 65, of Chicago, whose dog also died, the coroner for LaPorte County, Indiana, John Sullivan, said on Friday.
Firefighters worked hours after the crash in brutally cold conditions to pull people from cars crushed in the wreck, a process one fire chief said he would never forget.
"The thing that was so tough out there, especially for a fireman, was trying to prioritize who you extricate first," Mick Pawlik, chief of the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department in Michigan City, said in an interview on Friday.
Pawlik said emergency workers extricated people from six cars, including one man who was in a car that was "just encased in semis" who was freed after 90 minutes and lived.
"This will live with us forever," Pawlik said.
The injured were taken to local hospitals. Laura Gould, a spokeswoman for Indiana University Health LaPorte Hospital, said that all six patients taken there had been treated and released.
Michigan City is about 58 miles (93 km) east of Chicago. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Leslie Adler)