Multiple vehicles collided late Monday morning south of Springfield, Illinois, due to a blinding dust storm, resulting in at least six fatalities and dozens of injuries. Governor J.B. Pritzker called the accident “horrific.” There was a 30-mile backup in both ways on Interstate 55.
Twitter videos showed dozens of vehicles, including tractor-trailers, strewn over the highway in the midst of thick plumes of smoke and dust. At least one car still had flames coming out of it. In one picture, smoke and fire loomed over a landscape of scorched devastation.
Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick claimed during a news conference that the incidents were caused by “The cause of the crashes is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,” The official death toll, he said, would be announced later in the day.
The Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the accident happened around 11 a.m. Central Time near milepost 76 in Montgomery County, in south-central Illinois, and that the road was closed between mileposts 52 and 80 as a result.
There were 72 vehicles total, including cars and numerous tractor trailers, involved in the accidents, according to the Illinois State Police as of late Monday. Two tractor-trailers, according to Starrick, have caught fire.
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Fires, including one involving power tool batteries on a semitrailer, required the deployment of ten helicopters and a hazardous materials team, as reported by Montgomery County officials. According to the Illinois State Police, 37 victims, ranging in age from 2 to 80 years old, and suffering from injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, were sent to local hospitals.
Shirley Harper, 88, of Franklin, Wisconsin, was confirmed as one of the six victims on Monday night. According to ISP, the Coroner’s Office in Montgomery County is working to determine the identities of the remaining five fatalities.
Nick Hausen, WSIL’s chief meteorologist, said the haze was caused by dust from newly plowed fields. According to Weather.com, Nathan Cormier observed a plume of smoke off in the distance while travelling on the highway.
Chuck Schaffer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Associated Press that the terrain is largely treeless and flat. “It’s been very dry across this area really for the last three weeks,” Schaffer said. “The farmers are out there tilling their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose.”
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