White-out conditions created by a rare dust storm are being blamed for a massive pileup along Interstate 55 in central Illinois that claimed the lives of six people and sent dozens of others to the hospital yesterday morning.
72 Passenger Cars and 18-Wheelers Caught Up in Illinois Dust Storm Crash
The tragic chain-reaction crash occurred just before 11:00 along a single two-mile stretch of I-55 south of Springfield. According to the Illinois State Police, 72 passenger cars and 18-wheelers were involved in the accident, including two big rigs that caught fire.
More than 30 emergency departments responded to the scene. But the shear immensity of the wreck, coupled with the low-visibility conditions created by swirling dust, slowed first responders’ efforts to reach the victims.
“We had multiple vehicles involved. Some were on fire, so we had vehicle fires to extinguish,” said Kevin Schott, director of the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency, according to NPR News. “We had to search every vehicle whether they were involved in the accident or just pulled over to check for injuries, try getting them out of there rapidly and getting them to the hospital so that we can provide professional care for them.”
37 Crash Victims Hospitalized, Some with Life-Threatening Injuries
While dust-storm triggered accidents spanned both the north and southbound lanes of I-55, all of the deaths occurred in the pileup on the northbound side of the interstate.
As of Tuesday morning, police had tentatively identified four of the six people killed in the crash. However, they have asked for the public’s help in identifying the remaining two victims.
Thirty-seven people between 2 and 80 years old were taken to area hospitals with injuries that ranged from mild to life-threatening. So far, officials have not released any additional information on the injured or their current conditions.
Did Reckless Driving Contribute to Illinois Dust Storm Pileup?
While Illinois isn’t known for dust storms, a combination of recent dry weather, strong winds, and dirt farm fields along the very flat land adjacent to the interstate apparently created perfect conditions for the disaster that unfolded yesterday morning.
However, one driver who turned off the interstate just before the crash also told the New York Times that despite high winds and worsening visibility, cars did not appear to be slowing down, and “trucks were fishtailing left and right.”
“The proper procedure would be to put your hazards on, get on the side of the road and let the dust cloud go, but people kept just driving into it,” another driver told ABC-7 in Chicago. “If I hadn’t moved to the left lane, I would have been crushed behind the two red cars behind me.”
Yesterday’s deadly pileup remains under investigation, and authorities have confirmed plans for a reconstruction to identify all the factors that may have contributed to the crash.
“It’s very early in this process and in no way are we saying there is anything criminal at this point, but we do have six individuals who have lost their lives,” Shott said.
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