Trapped in the crush of twisted metal, sputtering engines and broken bodies, Sheila Gales looked toward the sky for salvation.
Smouldering cars had piled up around her and she was pinned from the waist down, her legs mangled in the wreckage.
Blinded by the fog that swallowed the stretch of Highway 401 near Manning Road, she could hear and feel the hysteria building up around her.
Gales tried to reach out to her fiance's young daughter, who was pinned between two vehicles, screaming for help.
"Mama Sheila, please don't let me die. I'm only 14," Marceya McLamore begged.
Helpless, Gales turned to God.
"I was praying so hard. I grew up in church all my life and I never knew I could pray the way I did," she said.
"I was praying for everybody on the highway. I was praying for this child. I was praying for God to help us.
"I thought it was the end of the world ... and she was just screaming."
Ten years later, Marceya's screams still haunt Gales in her dreams and flashbacks of that fateful day when she, her fiance Charles McLamore, 40, and his two oldest children headed down the 401 toward a new life in Detroit.
On Sept. 3, 1999, the family crammed their belongings into McLamore's Pontiac and left Rochester, N.Y., at the crack of dawn. They took the fastest route to Detroit -- through Canada, along the 401.
"When we got to Highway 401, it was beautiful out -- nice, sunny," Gales, now 42, said this week in an interview at her parents' home in Detroit.
As they neared Essex County, Gales remembers taking off her sneakers and putting her feet up on the dashboard. She leaned back in her seat. The radio was on.
Marceya and her brother Mark, 15, were bubbling with excitement in the back seat. They looked forward to attending new schools in Detroit, making new friends and hanging out with Gales' five daughters.
"It was going to be one big, happy family."
There was no warning that, less than 50 kilometres from their destination, the family would hit a wall of fog so thick it caused a chain reaction of accidents in both directions. When the fog lifted as suddenly as it came, it revealed a horrific scene -- an 87-car pileup in a ball of fire; a road littered with disintegrated vehicles, shattered glass and moaning victims.
"Suddenly, it just turned pitch black," Gales said. "That's when we slammed into something -- it was a car. And then another car slammed into us and another one and another one and then they started piling up on top of us."
The Pontiac was crushed like a can and its engine, still running, protruded inside the car.
Gales yelled at everybody to get out. She grabbed Marceya and they disappeared into the eerie, disorienting fog.
"It was like I was blind. Feeling cars, going in between cars, jumping over cars, dragging her. We were just running for our life."
As they scrambled to get to safety, Gales heard a loud explosion.
"A van was tumbling and it pinned me from the hips down," she said. Her legs had somehow wound up under the tires and she felt her bones breaking, her muscles and skin tearing.
"People in the car that my legs were pinned to -- the man asked for help, said his brother was next to him but not responding," she remembered. "But I couldn't move."
Gales clasped her hands tighter together and continued to pray.
"It was so dark and all of a sudden, the clouds just started opening. And I'm looking up and I can see me having my kids, me when I was young ... I could see everything that I did in my life," she said. "It was like I was looking down at myself."
Soon, one of the men who clawed through the wreckage and fog to help the injured appeared.
"They later said he heard me praying and the sound of my prayer led him to me," Gales said.
But she was more concerned about Marceya, who was gasping for air.
"I was trying to get this child out and I couldn't. I couldn't help her," she said. "I told him to save the child and I'll be OK. And he told me that she was too badly pinned."
Eventually, Gales said the man managed to set her free and throw her over his shoulder.
As he was running with her in his arms, "the whole highway blew up and I caught on fire," she said.
"Everything went just haywire then."
The next thing Gales remembers is laying on the ground on the side of the highway. "A lady with long, beautiful locks of black hair" stroked her head, told her everything would be OK and handed her a cellphone to call her family in Detroit.
No one else remembers seeing the mysterious woman. Gales now believes she was an angel.
Then, Gales seemed to be flying through the air on a gurney as paramedics rushed her to a waiting ambulance down the road. When one of the paramedics cut open her sweat pants, Gales saw pieces of her leg fall to her ankles.
"That's when one of the paramedics said: 'We're losing her, she's going into shock,'" she said.
Gales awoke in Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital with her parents, Ezekiel and Lutricia Long, by her side.
"I asked my mom: 'Where's Charles? Where are the kids? She dropped her head and said: 'Sheila, he's gone. The kids are gone."
It has taken Gales years to come to terms with what happened on that otherwise beautiful day in September a decade ago. She was overcome with guilt, unable to understand why Mark and Marceya perished so young, why God didn't take her instead.
"I felt it was my duty to take care of these kids because they were coming up to start their life with me and my family," she said.
When Gales decided to move to Detroit, McLamore joined her without hesitation, she said, deciding to bring Mark and Marceya along. He left behind four other children in Rochester.
Gales remembered her fiance as a "real nice guy ... a man you could spend the rest of your life with."
McLamore had worked in construction before heading to Detroit. He was a great, hands-on dad who loved spending time with his kids, Gales said.
She often wonders what Mark and Marceya would look like now if they had survived the crash. Photographs of them burned in the car on the 401, along with other mementos. All Gales has left is cherished memories.
"Mark was so silly. Everything to him was a joke," she said. "He was really smart. He wanted to play football, but he was so skinny."
Marceya was outgoing and loved to dance. She would bust out a move whenever one of her favourite songs came on the radio, Gales said.
"I miss them dearly. I think about them all the time."
"Sometimes, I may have good days, sometimes I have bad days, even though it's been 10 years," Gales said. "This is the time of the year when I start having nightmares again.
"I fought myself a lot of times about those kids dying because if I would have said, 'stay in New York,' they wouldn't have died on the highway. Only if I would have said no."
But Gales found comfort in McLamore's family members, who assured her they were glad that she survived.
Once she was strong enough to travel -- she had spent three months at Hotel-Dieu, of which she remembers little -- Gales went to Rochester to pay her respects to McLamore, the kids and their grieving mother, Awanda Stearns. But she was so traumatized that she had to be medicated in order to get on the 401 again.
She hasn't been back since.
"I can't deal with Canada," she said. "Even if I'm downtown Detroit and I see ... the Tunnel to Canada sign, I lose it."
Gales still lives with the physical and emotional scars of Sept. 3, 1999. Even though surgeons at Hotel-Dieu were remarkably able to piece her shattered legs back together and save them from amputation, she still uses a cane to get around.
"I had to go through a lot of therapy -- mental and physical therapy," she said. "I've came a long way ... but it's been rough."
Over the years, Gales' father, a minister, has been telling her that God let her live for a reason. She believes him now.
"Sometimes I think he left me here to help others ... to give back," she said.
"No one knows what that reason is. But I'm here."