The truck had just merged onto Interstate 5 around 3:30 a.m. when it tipped on its side, dumping its load of 448 hives, or about 13.7 million bees, Washington State Patrol Trooper Travis Shearer said. The driver, a 36-year-old man from Idaho, was not hurt.
The company that owns the insects, Belleville Honey and Beekeeping Supply of Burlington, sent beekeepers to recover as many as possible, and bees covered their protective suits as they worked.
The bees became more active as the sun rose and the weather warmed, and firefighters had to spray a layer of foam on some of the boxes, killing the insects for safety.
Many of the hives were still along the highway more than seven hours after the accident, when a front-end loader began scooping them up and dumping them into a dump truck, Shearer said. The majority of the hives had been crushed.
The bees were being transported from Sunnyside, in central Washington, to a blueberry farm in Lynden, a city near the Canadian border about 100 miles north of Seattle, Shearer said. Their job: pollinating crops.
First responders and reporters alike swatted at the bees as they tried to do their jobs.
"I think everybody there got stung," Shearer said.
Seattle television station KIRO posted a video compilation of its on-scene reporter swatting the insects as he reported on the accident.
Shearer urged drivers to keep their windows up and to "#beesafe when travelling through that area," as he wrote on Twitter.
Company owner Eric Thompson told The Seattle Times the beekeepers he sent recovered 128 hives before the sun came up but he said the damage would be hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and future profit. Everything was insured, he said.
"I'm disappointed we caused such chaos and confusion," he added.