DIVERNON, Ill. (AP) — A windstorm in south-central Illinois kicked up clouds of dust Monday, causing numerous crashes, pileups and “multiple fatalities” on Interstate 55, police said.
The crashes occurred late in the morning and involved 40 to 60 passenger cars and multiple tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire, Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said. The highway was shut down in both directions in Montgomery County, 75 miles (120 kilometers) 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.
He reported that there were “multiple fatalities” but did not give an exact number, saying that would be released later in the day.
He said more than 30 people were transported to hospitals with injuries following the crashes, which occurred in both the southbound and the northbound lanes.
Starrick said such blinding duststorms have happened before on Illinois roads “where unfortunately you have excessively high winds” that blow the topsoil from fields. Farmers are currently busy planting fields across Illinois and the Midwest region.
Starrick said I-55 would be closed until late morning or early afternoon Tuesday.
“Visibility in the area is reported to be low due to blowing dust,” Illinois State Police said earlier in a statement. “Traffic is urged to seek alternate routes.”
The Auburn Travel Center in Divernon was established as a reunification spot for travelers.