By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) - Five Louisiana children travelling to Disney World were among the seven people who died in Florida in a fiery crash involving two tractor-trailer trucks travelling in opposite directions, law enforcement officials and local media said on Friday.
The children, who ranged in age from 8 or 9 to teenagers, were killed on Thursday afternoon in a crash that began with a northbound tractor-trailer and car colliding on I-75 near Gainesville, Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lieutenant Patrick Riordan said.
The two northbound vehicles crossed over into the southbound lanes and collided with another tractor-trailer and a church van, leaving a mass of flaming wreckage, Rahming told a press briefing near the scene.
The 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 injuries of varying severity, he added.
The church van, owned by Avoyelles House of Mercy in Marksville, Louisiana, had been headed to Disney World, the Gainesville Sun newspaper reported.
Some of its occupants, including children, were ejected onto the roadway and may have been struck by a fifth vehicle immediately after the crash, Riordan said.
Riordan said the number of passengers in the van was unknown and stressed that the investigation was still underway.
The Alachua County Fire Rescue department 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 wreck closed the interstate highway 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 and Dan Grebler)