At least six people have been killed and at least 30 hospitalized after a dangerous dust storm led to a massive pile-up on Interstate 55 south of Springfield, Illinois.
State Police said the crash involved as many as 60 passenger cars, 28 commercial vehicles and two semi-trucks that caught on fire.
The injured range in age from 2 to 80, and are suffering from injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said at a new conference Monday evening.
A stretch of the highway between was forced to shut and traffic was being diverted. It is expected to be closed off until Tuesday afternoon.
Officials have established a reunification post for families of crash victims at the Mr. Fuel Travel Center in Litchfield, Montgomery County.
Videos and photos posted on social media show plumes of smoke and mangled and burning vehicles – with witnesses saying there were several explosions.
Shocking images of the aftermath show plumes of smoke and mangled vehicles on the road
State Police said the crash involved at least 40 to 60 passenger cars
Officials have established a reunification post for families of crash victims in Litchfield
A dust storm is to blame for a major pileup on a highway in central Illinois on Monday
The deadly pile-up took place northbound and southbound between mileposts 63 and 80
High winds blew freshly ploughed soil from nearby farms onto the road, creating the dust bowl and leading to dangerously low visibility.
Authorities say the storm came on quickly, creating conditions similar to that of a snowstorm whiteout.
Starrick said the initial crashes happened late morning in the northbound lanes with additional crashes reported later in the southbound lane.
‘The cause of the crash is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,’ he said.
‘My heart goes out to the families. My heart goes out to anybody that found themselves involved in this particular situation,’ he continued. ‘It sounds like due to the low visibility, the high winds, everything just came together unfortunately.’
Police now believe they have transported everyone off of the interstate although first responders were doing a secondary search as of Monday afternoon.
But crews on the scene were having difficulty reaching some of the injured, Starrick said, because some of the vehicles were still on fire when first responders arrived.
The Environmental Protection Agency has now been called on to manage the spillage from some diesel trucks at the scene.
Illinois State Police said said the pileup involved 40 to 60 passenger vehicles
The highway closures are northbound and southbound between mileposts 63 and 80 which spans from southern Sangamon County through northern Montgomery County.
‘Interstate 55 in southern Sangamon and northern Montgomery counties remains closed in both directions because of numerous crashes caused by a dust storm, which has greatly reduced visibility,’ the state Department of Transportation said in a Tweet.
One man who was caught in the hours-long traffic, Nathan Cormier, told FOX 32 of the devastation he saw.
He said he was not expecting the dust storm to be as bad as it was.
‘I’m used to the smaller dust storms from plowing and stuff, so I didn’t think it would be a major dal, but it was much bigger than I expected,’ Cormier said.
He added that he thought the storm cloud were ‘probably a good mile long at least.’
Interstate 55 is shut down from milepost 52 – 80 in both directions following the incident
More than 30 people have been taken to hospital after a dust storm led to a massive pile-up
High winds blew freshly ploughed soil from nearby farms onto the road, creating the dust bowl
The National Weather Service in Lincoln, Illinois, issued a ‘blowing dust warning’ at 1.25pm central time, warning that visibility was ‘less than a quarter of a mile.’
The warning read: ‘Visibility can become zero at times. If you encounter blowing dust on the roadway or see it approaching, pull off the road as far as possible.’
It said winds were gusting between 35mph and 45 mph.
It warned that strong west to northwest winds would continue through Tuesday, which could cause difficult driving conditions.
State Police said in a tweet that people needing to reunify with individuals involved in this crash can call 1-800-RedCross.
This is a developing story and will be updated.