DIVERNON, Ill. (AP) — A windstorm in south-central Illinois kicked up dangerous clouds of blinding dust off farm fields Monday, causing numerous crashes and killing at least six people on Interstate 55, police said.
The late morning crashes involved 40 to 60 cars and multiple tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire, Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said.
At least six people died, he said.
I-55 was shut down in both directions in Montgomery County, 75 miles north of St. Louis.
Starrick told reporters that it was a spring version of a “whiteout situation” typically seen in winter snowstorms.
“The cause of the crashes is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,” he said.
Winds at the time were gusting between 35 mph and 45 mph, the National Weather Service said.
“It’s very flat, very few trees,” meteorologist Chuck Schaffer said. “It’s been very dry across this area really for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there tilling their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose.”
Starrick said more than 30 people were transported to hospitals with injuries following the crashes, which occurred in both the southbound and northbound lanes.
He said I-55 would be closed until late morning or early afternoon Tuesday.
The Auburn Travel Center in Divernon was established as a reunification spot for travelers.