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AP Photo/Indiana State Police

Emergency crews work at the scene of a massive pileup involving more than 40 vehicles, many of them semitrailers, along Interstate 94 Thursday afternoon near Michigan City, Ind. At least three were killed and more than 20 people were injured.

By Jeff Black and Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News, NBC News

Workers continued Friday morning picking through the wreckage of a massive pileup on a busy northern Indiana interstate that killed three people and injured more than 20 more.

More than 40 vehicles — many of them tractor-trailers — were involved in the chain-reaction wreck Thursday afternoon on Interstate 94, the main artery connecting Detroit and Chicago in Indiana.

An Indiana State Police official says that at least than 46 vehicles, including tractor-trailers and cars, were involved in a deadly crash near Michigan City, Ind.

At least one person was trapped in a vehicle for hours before authorities could come to the rescue, Indiana State Police said.

LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said the victims are 65-year-old Jerry Dalrymple from the Chicago area, who had a dog with him that also died. A couple, Thomas Wolma, 67, and Marilyn Wolma, 65, from Grand Rapids, Mich., were also killed in the crash.

Twenty two other people were hurt and taken to local hospitals, state police said. The injured included Henry Imboden, 79, and Jeffrey Rennell, 48, who were in critical condition, Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas said in a news conference Friday.

The pileup stretched out over about a mile of the interstate, said state police Cpl. Larry Koebcke. Lanes remained closed on Friday, Koebcke said, as crews in cranes worked to clear the scene.

A total of 46 vehicles were involved in the accident, including 18 semitrailers, Wojas said. Two box trucks and 26 passenger vehicles made up the rest of the catastrophic wreckage, she said.

“It’ll live with us forever. That’s something that you never forget,” said Cool Spring Fire Department volunteer Nick Powlick. “We’re lucky that there weren’t 20 people dead and three people injured.”

Indiana State Police via AP

Snow and whiteout conditions were contributing factors to the accident, state police said. A band of heavy lake-effect snow was reported Thursday afternoon when the pileup began, dropping 1 to 2 inches of snow per hour and reducing visibility to a quarter-mile or less, National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said.

“We had a full call out of crews on 94 the entire day,” said Matt Deitchley, director of media relations at the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Deitchley said Interstate 94 was plowed and salted just 20 minutes before the accident took place, but “the conditions that happened so quickly,” rendered efforts ineffective.

Dixie Juchcinski, speaking in stand-still traffic some four miles from the crash, told the station the accident occurred in white-out conditions.

“When we first came to a stop, it was a complete whiteout,” Juchcinski said. “It was kind of a surprise to us because we could only see one or two cars in front of us.”

Scott Collins, 17, of Chesterton, Ind., was riding in a car with three other teens and saw the crash happen just behind them.

“One of the semis started sliding and I think it jackknifed in the middle of the road” and collided with another semi, he told the Associated Press. “After that happened, multiple semis locked up … We were pretty nervous.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A massive, 40-vehicle collision on a Michigan City, Ind., highway has left several dead and at least 20 injured after a whiteout created dangerous driving conditions. One witness said, “It sounded like a train coming off the rails.” NBC’s John Yang reports.