Freak dust storm creates havoc in Illinois

A massive dust storm that cut visibility to near zero on Monday (1 May) triggered a series of chain-reaction crashes involving dozens of vehicles on an Illinois highway.

The storm is understood to have killed at least six people and injured some two dozen others, authorities said.

Sand and dust storms are an essential element of the earth’s natural bio chemical cycles but are also caused in part by human-induced drivers including climate change, unsustainable land management, and water use, and in turn sand and dust storms contribute to climate change and air pollution, according to the UN Environment Management Group.

Roughly 40 to 60 passenger cars and 30 commercial vehicles, including numerous tractor-trailer trucks, were involved in the pileup around 11 amCT (1200 ET) on Interstate 55 in southern Illinois, state police said in a news release. Two of the big-rig trucks caught fire as a result.

The crashes occurred on both sides of I-55 along a 2-mile stretch of the highway near the town of Farmersville, about 200 miles (320 kilometres) southwest of Chicago, police said.

More than 30 people were transported to area hospitals with injuries, ranging from minor to life-threatening, and the patients ranged in age from 2- to 80-years-old, police said.

Local media posted video footage of the scene showing smashed cars and trucks crumpled against one another, some of them on the shoulder of the highway.

State police said the pileups were caused by “excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, resulting in zero visibility.”

A 17-mile stretch of the highway was closed in both directions for several hours, they added.