(Reuters) – Five Louisiana children traveling to Disney World in a church van were among the seven people who died in a fiery crash involving two tractor trailers traveling in opposite directions in Florida, law enforcement and church officials said on Friday.
The children, who ranged in age from 8 or 9 to teenagers, were killed on Thursday afternoon in the crash that began when a northbound tractor-trailer and car collided on I-75 near Gainesville, Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lieutenant Patrick Riordan said.
The two northbound vehicles crossed into the southbound lanes and collided with another tractor-trailer and the church van, leaving a mass of flaming wreckage, Riordan told a press briefing near the scene.
The unidentified drivers of the two trucks, both men, also died in the crash, he said. Another six to eight people were taken to area hospitals with various injuries, he added.
The church van, owned by Avoyelles House of Mercy in Marksville, Louisiana, was taking nine children and three women to Orlando, home of Disney World, according to Kevin Cox, Louisiana district superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church.
One of the women was pregnant and delivered her baby after the crash, Cox said in a statement on the Louisiana district’s Facebook page. The baby and the surviving four other children and three adults are expected to recover, he said. The new mother also survived.
Some of the van’s occupants, including children, were ejected from the vehicle onto the roadway and may have been struck by a fifth vehicle immediately after the crash, Riordan said.
The number of passengers in the van was unknown and Riordan said the investigation was still underway.
Alachua County Fire Rescue posted a photograph on Facebook showing flames engulfing a truck with a vehicle underneath it. About 50 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the crash, it said.
The interstate highway was closed in both directions for several hours, according to Florida media reports.
Additional reporting by Mike Cooper in Atlanta; Writing by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Dan Grebler and Jeffrey Benkoe