‘Multiple fatalities’ on Illinois Highway after violent storms
DIVERNON, Ill. (AP) — A storm in south-central Illinois on Monday kicked up dangerous clouds of dust from agricultural fields, blinded drivers and caused numerous accidents and “multiple deaths” on Interstate 55, police said.
The late morning crashes involved 40 to 60 cars and several tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire, Illinois State Police Department Major Ryan Starrick said. The freeway was closed in both directions in Montgomery County, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of St. Louis.
“The cause of the accidents is attributed to excessive wind blowing debris from agricultural fields across the highway, resulting in zero visibility,” Starrick said at a news conference.
He reported that there had been “several deaths” but didn’t give an exact number and said these would be released later in the day.
Winds at the time were between 35 mph (56 km/h) and 45 mph (74 km/h), the National Weather Service said.
“It’s very flat, very few trees,” said meteorologist Chuck Schaffer. “It’s been really, really dry in this area for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there cultivating their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose.”
Starrick said more than 30 people were taken 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 reunion site for travellers.
Associated Press reporters Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.