MANATEE -- It was an apocalyptic scene Friday on Interstate 75 where nearly 50 vehicles crashed into each other at the University Parkway overpass.
A jack-knifed tractor-trailer sandwiched a pickup truck.
A smashed car sat empty, one of its doors leaning against another vehicle.
Glass and other debris littered the roadway.
People were pulled from their vehicles, placed on stretchers and taken away.
Those uninjured walked around in disbelief, talking on their phones and waiting for wreckers.
Fifty-two people were transported to area hospitals, two of whom were airlifted from the scene with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. No fatalities were reported.
"It looks worse than it is," Capt. Susan Pierson of the Sarasota Fire Department told reporters at the scene.
Nearby Lakewood Ranch Medical Center admitted 13 of the victims with broken bones, friction burns from airbags and lacerations from broken glass, according to Jennifer Bryan, spokeswoman for the hospital. Most were transported by ambulance, but there were also some walk-ins, she said. One of the victims underwent surgery Friday afternoon.
"We've had drills with pretty much the exact situation," Bryan said. "The actual implementation was even better; we've practiced what just happened."
The Florida Highway Patrol reported they are working on 12 separate crash investigations -- with more to follow -- in the incident near mile marker 213.
Southbound I-75 at University Parkway was shut down soon after the accident, which was reported at 3:11 p.m. The southbound lanes reopened shortly after 9 p.m.; the northbound lanes were not affected.
First responders were able to contain a leak of a nondangerous liquid from a tanker truck involved, she said.
FHP was accompanied by law enforcement, fire rescue and emergency medical agencies from Manatee and Sarasota counties.
It is unsure what caused the massive traffic accident, but an FHP representative said weather could have been a factor.
The amount of damage worsened from the incident's first crash to the back of the pileup, where vehicles were jumbled together, facing every direction. A few vehicles that were able to swerve around each other sat unscathed atop the overpass. One of those belonged to Bob Carter.
"It was raining and visibility was starting to get tough," said Carter, who was driving home to Sarasota. "I said, 'Oh my God,' and was trying to stop. I saw the car behind me going to whack me."
When he drove over the crest of the overpass, Carter had no idea what was waiting on the other side. And despite a slippery road, he was able pull to the shoulder and stop without hitting the vehicle in front of him.
"We're so fortunate," Carter said.
A quick once-over of Diana Cardeanal's vehicle and one would be surprised to know she walked away.
"It's going to take me a while to go back to the road," Cardeanal said. "It's left a bad taste in my mouth."
After swiping two cars, her sport-utility vehicle was halted when she struck the back of a tractor trailer. The truck driver said if his trailer had not been equipped with a rear bumper required by law, the result may have been much worse.
"When I crashed into this truck, I thought I was going to die," said an upset Cardeanal. She sat angled in the driver's seat, looking disheveled as she assessed the damage to her vehicle.
The air bags were deployed, the windshield shattered and front end destroyed.
"I've been driving I-75 and I-275 every day for eight years," Cardeanal said. "I've always seen these kind of accidents, but I never thought it was going to happen to me some day."
The southbound lanes of Interstate 75 were backed up for miles as motorists were detoured from State Road 70 to Fruitville Roads, adding congestion to alternate routes.
-- Herald reporter Miriam Valverde contributed to this story.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.