We have tragic news today out of Illinois, where a massive dust storm led to a major multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 55 south of the state's capital city of Springfield. As many as 80 vehicles are estimated to be involved, though the situation is still being assessed by the Illinois State Police (ISP). Unfortunately, dozens of injuries and multiple fatalities have been reported.
According to a briefing from the ISP, the primary accident occurred at approximately 10:55 AM CDT on I-55 north at mile marker 76, almost halfway between Springfield and St Louis, Missouri. We say primary because numerous crashes have been reported along I-55 in south-central Illinois where strong winds and have generated tremendous dust storms. The video at the top of this article from Fox 32 Chicago shows near-zero visibility on the highway, with dust accumulating on cars. The video below (also from Fox 32) shows the same area with skies somewhat clearer, revealing the extent of the damage.
The ISP currently reports approximately 20 commercial vehicles and between 40 to 60 passenger cars were involved in the major collision. Two semi-trucks caught fire; over 30 people have been taken to hospitals with injuries. There isn't an estimate on the number of fatalities at this time. Fortunately, the fires were extinguished before winds could spread the flames further. First responders from over 30 agencies arrived on the scene to offer assistance.
Other accidents in the area have occurred, leading to the complete closure of I-55 North and South. The original closure stretched from mile markers 52 to 80. At this time, the highway remains closed from markers 63 to 80 and is expected to stay closed at least through Tuesday morning. Speaking to Fox Weather, one driver likened the situation to the dust bowl era of America in the 1930s.
This particular stretch of I-55 runs through a very flat portion of the state, surrounded by farmland. According to NBC 5 Chicago, such storms aren't uncommon in the area, especially in the spring when fields are freshly tilled. The National Weather Service has issued a blowing dust warning for the area until 7:00 PM CDT due to dry conditions and winds that could gust over 45 mph.