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Gas tanker explodes killing two on highway as icy weather grips east of US

An Arctic blast of cold air caused rain and wet roads to freeze across the east of the United States on Saturday - triggering airport delays in Washington and major traffic pile-ups in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

Authorities said two people were killed in a chain-reaction accident in Baltimore involving a tanker carrying gas that skidded off a highway and exploded.

Baltimore City Fire Chief Roman Clark said at least 15 were also injured in the 55-vehicle accident and tanker explosion on Interstate-95. Mr Clark said the tanker careered off the highway, plunged over a wall and burst into flames.

The fire chief said it is too early to say whether the crash was caused by slippery conditions, although scores of traffic accidents were being reported across the region due to icy roads.

"The roads were very icy," Mr Clark said. "We have nothing but sheets of ice throughout the city, sidewalks," he said.

Officials have not released the names of the two people killed in the crash. Mr Clark said it is unclear whether the pile-up started before the tanker crash or was caused by the incident.

Earlier on Saturday, Bob Maloney of the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management was quoted by WBAL-TV as saying that at least 30 cars were involved in an accident on northbound I-95.

Baltimore County said on Twitter that between 15 and 20 vehicles were in a pile-up on I-695 near Rosedale. Six people were taken to the hospital.

The National Weather Service has issued a wintry weather advisory for the Baltimore area, meaning that periods of sleet and freezing rain through noon will lead to slippery roads and limited visibility.

In Virginia State police said 41 traffic crashes were reported in the northern part of the state. It was unclear how many were due to icy roads. One fatality was reported.

Authorities in Ohio say a Columbus woman was killed on Saturday after her car skidded off an icy road.

Two airports serving the nation's capital are experiencing delays or cancellations on Saturday.

Washington Dulles International airport reopened two runways after having to close all runways for more than three hours due to icy weather.

Wintry weather forced the airport to halt all flights early on Saturday. The airport says two runways reopened for flights as of 10 am, but that travels should expect residual cancellations and delays.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said Reagan Washington National Airport is operating normally, but some flights may be delayed or cancelled due to bad weather along the east coast.

A spokesman for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport says the weather is causing some delays and cancellations but no runways have been closed.

In central North Carolina, light freezing rain has caused scores of traffic accidents, adding to the road mayhem scattered throughout the eastern US.

Police and emergency workers reported more than 100 crashes overnight on Saturday in Raleigh and Charlotte as the drizzle combined with temperatures below freezing for approaching 40 hours combined to create dangerous icy patches.

Charlotte police reported two people dead in separate fatal crashes early Saturday, although investigators are still trying to work out if ice caused the wrecks.

Meanwhile, Indiana authorities say there have been dozens of crashes - two of them involving fatalities - due to freezing rain and ice that's made the roadways treacherous.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the city's police department is urging motorists to stay off the roadways unless it is "absolutely" necessary to drive somewhere.

Almost the entire state is under a winter weather advisory through to Sunday morning. The National Weather Service says there may be accumulating ice and snow in many parts of the state.

The state police says it has responded to at least 180 crashes since late Friday night, including two with fatalities. The number of deaths was not available.

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