Ballina International English Video+Pictures: Illinois Dust Storm Leaves ‘Multiple’ People Dead Amid Highway Pile-Up

Video+Pictures: Illinois Dust Storm Leaves ‘Multiple’ People Dead Amid Highway Pile-Up

Six dead, dozens injured after dust storm causes “horrific” pile-up on Illinois’ I-55

CHICAGO – A windstorm in south-central Illinois kicked up clouds of dust on Monday, causing numerous crashes, pileups and “multiple fatalities” on Interstate 55, police said.

The crashes occurred around 10:55 a.m. and involved 30 commercial motor vehicles and 40 to 60 passenger cars, including two truck-tractor semi-trailers that caught fire, Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said. The highway was shut down in both directions in Montgomery County, 75 miles north of St. Louis.

“The cause of the crashes is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,” Starrick said at a news conference.

The crashes occurred within a two-mile stretch, from Milepost 76 to 78.

Starrick reported that six people were killed – all in the northbound lanes, and more than 30 people were transported to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening. Ages of the victims ranged from 2-years-old to 80.

The crashes forced emergency officials to close a 30-mile stretch of I-55

Starrick said such blinding duststorms have happened before on Illinois roads “where unfortunately you have excessively high winds” that blow the topsoil from fields.

Winds at the time were gusting between 35 mph and 45 mph, the National Weather Service said.

“It’s very flat, very few trees,” meteorologist Chuck Schaffer said. “It’s been very dry across this area really for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there tilling their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose.”

Starrick said I-55 would be closed until late morning or early afternoon Tuesday.

“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. I-55 traffic is being detoured via Illinois 104 and Illinois 48 through Taylorville,” the Illinois Department of Transportation said on Twitter.

State police said traffic was being diverted onto the frontage road, and drivers were urged to avoid the area and find an alternate route.

The Auburn Travel Center in Divernon was initially established as a reunification spot for travelers and families of people who were involved in the crash, according to state police. But as of 3:54 p.m., state police and are now directing drivers to the Mr. Fuel Travel Center in Litchfield.

“ISP has closed the Auburn Travel Center and is now directing drivers to the Mr. Fuel Travel Center off of I-55 in Litchfield. People needing to reunify with individuals involved in the crash can call 1-800-RedCross ,” Illinois State Police said.