A blinding dust storm in south-central Illinois caused a catastrophic multi-vehicle pileup that claimed the lives of at least six people and injured dozens more, according to reports from local officials.
The pileup occurred on Monday morning on Interstate 55, resulting in the closure of traffic in both directions for almost 30 miles.
Low to near-zero visibility occurred at the time of the crashes due to the excessive winds blowing dirt from plowed fields around the highway, according to the Illinois DOT.
The pileup occurred just before 11 a.m. CDT near milepost 76 in Montgomery County, prompting authorities to shut down traffic between mileposts 52 and 80.
According to Illinois State Police, the crashes involved 72 vehicles, including passenger cars and multiple tractor-trailers. Two tractor-trailers caught fire during the incident.
A total of 37 people aged 2 to 80 were taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening. Of the six fatalities, only one victim, 88-year-old Shirley Harper of Franklin, Wisconsin, has been identified so far.
Dust storms are rare in the region. One driver stated that visibility was hampered to the point that drivers could not see beyond the hoods of their vehicles.