It happened just north of the I-40/I-85split east of Durham close to the N.C. 86 exit in Hillsborough around 10 a.m..
The North Carolina Highway Patrol said one person was killed and six were taken to area hospitals.
At the scene of the first crash, pictures from Chopper 11 HD showed a tanker truck and regular tractor-trailer next to each other with a small red car wedged under the tanker.
The tractor-trailer had heavy fire damage and the trees and foliage on the shoulder of the road were also scorched. The dead man was in the truck that burned. Investigators were trying to identify him.
Further south, a truck hauling cement truck parts flipped on its side, sending two huge mixing cylinders rolling down the highway. One came to rest under a bridge, the other landed in the median.
"I was just on the exit ramp and I heard a big boom and I saw a cloud of black smoke," eyewitness Eric Massey recalled. "I mean, it took the whole sky right here. It just looked like a big mushroom in the sky and then I came down this way and then all of a sudden I saw this."
"Traffic backed up for miles in both directions. The northbound lanes reopened just before noon. By 2 p.m., the southbound lanes began flowing again, but only one lane was getting past at the crash site.
The Highway Patrol reopened all lanes by 8:30 p.m.
Investigators say the cause of the crash is under investigation. The names of the victims have not been released and no charges have been filed.