6 dead, dozens hospitalized after dust storm piles up several highways in Illinois

Six people were confirmed dead in a series of highway collisions in rural Illinois on Monday that officials said were blamed on a blinding dust storm.

More than 30 people, ranging in age from 2 to 80, were hospitalized with minor to life-threatening injuries, said Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starick said at an evening press conference.

The 90-vehicle crash on Interstate 55 north of Farmersville was reported just before 11 a.m., with separate pileups on the northbound and southbound sides, state police said.

“The cause of the accident was the blowing of dirt from the farm fields across the highway leading to zero visibility,” Starrick said.

Two big-rigs were involved in the collision, along with approximately 28 commercial vehicles and 60 passenger cars, Starick said.

The first accumulation was reported on the north side of the interstate, which runs through farm country. The major said mud and dust from the farms were thrown across the road.

“It’s not unusual,” Starrick said. “This has happened before in different parts of the state of Illinois.”

However, he said the number of vehicles and casualties were extraordinary. A Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency official said at an evening news conference that when first responders arrived it was difficult to reach the injured because some of the vehicles were on fire.

The National Weather Service is predicting “widespread dust blowing” Monday, with gusts up to 34 mph, for the Farmersville area. Federal forecasters said winds were coming from the northwest.

State police said visibility continued to be low in the area. The interstate was closed in both directions north of Farmersville, a small village where Route 66 was defunct, as investigators tried to reconstruct some of the timeline and conduct a secondary search for victims.

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Starrick said the interstate could be closed until Tuesday afternoon.

“At this point we feel we’ve all been safely transported out of the states,” Major said.

Motorists are advised to take alternative routes, state police said in a statement.

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