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1 dead, 33 injured in Long Island Expressway pileup

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SHIRLEY, N.Y. -- A tractor-trailer hauling debris from superstorm Sandy triggered a deadly 35-vehicle pileup on the Long Island Expressway in New York on Wednesday afternoon, police said. 

The truck struck several cars near exit 68 in the town of Shirley, which is located about 70 miles east of New York City. 

The collision set off a chain-reaction crash that left the tractor-trailer and two additional vehicles ablaze. A 68-year-old woman driving a Toyota Camry was killed, police said. An additional 33 people were injured, including a 57-year-old man who is in serious condition.

A car involved in the initial collision with the tractor-trailer was incinerated beyond recognition, with its tires punctured and paint burned off its body. Some SUVs and cars suffered extensive damage while others appeared to have barely a scratch; all were haphazardly stopped across the highway, which is up to six lanes in parts.

'It sounded like thunder'
One driver described the crash unfolding next to him while he was on the freeway.

"All we heard was crashing behind us, it sounded like thunder," said Jimmy Batjley. "Looking back, all I saw was glass and metal, and they went right past us, at least 40 miles per hour." 

"If you can imagine all the cars were lined up, and [the tractor-trailer] just came right in and just pushed that entire line," said Batjley. He said the tractor-trailer driver was pulled out before the truck burst into flames. 

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Aerial footage provided by News12 Long Island showed the trailer partly incinerated at dusk, alongside at least two cars that appeared to be blackened and burned. Multiple other vehicles, including a box truck, were scattered nearby, apparently having collided into one another or the guardrail.

The tractor-trailer was driven by 42-year-old Raymond Simoneau of Rockingham, Vt. Police told The Associated Press that Simoneau wasn't injured.

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The tractor-trailer and several of the vehicles involved in the crash were impounded for safety checks.

Five fire departments responded to the scene as well as 19 Emergency Medical Services agencies, police said.

The weather was clear at the time of the crash, according to Reuters.

"Anybody rolling up on this scene you would think there would be definitely more than just one fatality," said John Mirando, chief of the Ridge Fire Department. "It's just lucky that it's only one, but it could have been a lot worse."

NBCNewYork.com, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.