A windstorm in south-central Illinois sent clouds of dust over fields Monday, disrupting drivers and causing multiple crashes, pile-ups and “multiple fatalities” on Interstate 55, police said.
The accident happened late in the morning and involved 40 to 60 passenger cars and several tractor-trailers, both of which caught fire, Illinois State Police Major Ryan Starrick said. The highway is closed in both directions in Montgomery County, about 120 kilometers north of St.
“The cause of the accident was very strong winds that blew dirt from the fields onto the highway, causing zero visibility,” Starrick said at a news conference.
He reported that there were “several casualties” but did not give an exact number, saying he would release them later.
He said more than 30 people were transported to the hospital with injuries after the crash, which happened in the southbound and northbound lanes.
Winds at the time were between 55 and 75 km/h, the US National Weather Service said.
“It’s very flat, very few trees,” meteorologist Chuck Schaffer said. “It’s been really dry for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there working the fields and planting. The topsoil is a little loose.”
Starrick said such blinding dust storms have happened before on Illinois roads “where unfortunately you have very high winds” that blow topsoil off the grid. Farmers are currently busy planting fields in Illinois and the Midwest.
Starrick said I-55 will be closed until Tuesday morning or evening.
“Visibility in the area is reported to be low due to dust,” Illinois State Police said earlier in a statement. “Traffic is advised to seek alternative routes.”
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