Interstate 55 in central Illinois was officially reopened on Tuesday morning after numerous crashes took place during a fatal dust storm, taking the lives of at least six and harming at least 30, per authorities responding to the scene.
Police accounts of the events indicated that at least 72 cars were involved in crashes that occurred after a windstorm spread dust all over the interstate, leading the highway to reportedly be closed down in both directions for almost 30 miles.
Please see the update below for the fatal traffic crash in Montgomery County. pic.twitter.com/1aThnvdEFB
— IllinoisStatePolice (@ILStatePolice) May 2, 2023
The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office identified one of the deceased individuals on Monday as an 88-year-old lady from Wisconsin and is attempting to figure out the names of the rest, according to NBC News.
A video shared on Twitter by Breitbart News allegedly showed at least two people navigating through the dust storm, with little visibility available for the driver or anybody else around her.
"NO VISIBILITY": A damaging dust storm caused collisions in south-central Illinois and left drivers stranded for hours. pic.twitter.com/SO2D7U7sxa
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) May 2, 2023
“They were very unusual circumstances. Certainly, dust storms happen, but it is not something that happens every day here in this part of Illinois or any part of Illinois,” Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly stated at a news conference Tuesday, per Associated Press.
Kelly reported that the interstate’s northbound and southbound lanes reopened on Tuesday around 6 a.m.
The police director noted that over 40 officials were sent out to address the situation, including people belonging to the state police crash reconstruction team.
According to the National Weather Service, winds that day were blowing between 35 and 45 mph.
Emerson Nafziger, a professor emeritus in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, claimed that light rain in recent weeks combined with field tilling by farmers can lead to airborne dust during fast winds.
“It just has to dry the top surface, a quarter-inch of soil, and then there’s a huge amount to blow around,” Nafziger explained. “In this case, a lot of fields have been tilled, some have been planted, but the tillage process and even spreading fertilizer will put up a fair amount of dust.”
Speaking on the incident, a person involved in a crash told reporters, “You couldn’t even see … There were just so many cars and semi trucks with so much momentum behind them.”