Multiple people are dead and dozens injured after a dust storm caused a multi-vehicle pileup late Monday morning south of Springfield, Illinois.
Traffic on Interstate 55 was shut down in both directions for nearly 30 miles.
Video posted on Twitter showed dozens of cars and tractor-trailers in disarray amid billowing smoke and dust on both sides of the interstate. Flames were still visible from at least one vehicle.
“The cause of the crashes is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,” Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said at a news conference. He said the exact number of fatalities would be released later in the day.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the pileup took place just before 11 a.m. Central Time near milepost 76 in Montgomery County, prompting authorities to close traffic between mileposts 52 and 80.
The crashes involved 40 to 60 passenger cars and multiple tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire, Starrick said. At least 30 people were transported to hospitals with injuries.
According to WSIL chief meteorologist Nick Hausen, dust blowing off freshly cultivated fields led to low visibility in the area.
The Auburn Travel Center in Divernon, about 16 miles south of Springfield, was being used as reunification site for families of people involved in the crash.
Officials expected the roadway to be closed for several hours, and travelers were urged to seek alternate routes. According to Weather.com, gusts between 35 and 45 miles per hour had blown through the area.
Dust storms are rare in the area. In 2014, dust blowing off dry farm fields near Carlinville, 45 miles south of Springfield, led to multiple collisions on Illinois’ State Highway 108. One driver told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register that loosed dirt from plowed soybean fields had produced brown clouds of dust along the freeway.
Contributing: Associated Press; Tiffini Jackson, State Journal-Register