The accident occurred in thick fog at 8.30am. Fire and and ambulance crews struggled to reach casualties through the wreckage, and 16 ambulances ferried the injured to North Staffordshire Hospital at Stoke-on-Trent and Leighton Hospital in Crewe.
Twelve special foot paramedics from Staffordshire Ambulance Service walked among the wreckage, treating the injured while firefighters struggled to free them. North Staffordshire Hospital sent a flying squad and the Staffordshire Air Ambulance was also called to the scene. One man died there and another died later at North Staffordshire Hospital, where a third person was seriously ill last night.
Bob Lee of the ambulance service said the pile-up began with a minor accident at junction 16. But the freezing fog and ice led to following vehicles ploughing into one another. 'The scene was a real mess. It is one of the worst I have ever seen,' he said. Traffic banked up from the initial impact site back to junction 14, a distance of 18 miles.
Further north on the M6, at junction 17, a series of eight accidents near Sandbach in Cheshire that involved 57 vehicles shut the motorway. The first was at 7.56am on the northbound carriageway.
A spokesman for Cheshire police said: 'Lorries, cars and vans were involved in eight or nine crashes, but luckily there were only two serious injuries'. Several motorists who suffered whiplash injuries were treated in local hospitals.