6 dead in crashes as high winds and dust cut visibility on Interstate 55 near Springfield

DIVERNON, Ill. — A windstorm in south-central Illinois kicked up clouds of dust Monday, causing numerous crashes, pileups and six fatalities on Interstate 55, police said.

The crashes occurred late in the morning and involved 40 to 60 passenger cars and around 30 tractor-trailers, two of which caught fire, Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick said. The highway was shut down in both directions in Montgomery County, 20 miles south of Springfield.

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Six people have died as a result of the crash, and all were traveling in the northbound lanes, police said. They haven’t been identified.

“The cause of the crashes is due to excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, leading to zero visibility,” Starrick said at a news conference.

He said more than 30 people were taken to hospitals with injuries after the crashes, which occurred in both the southbound and the northbound lanes. The highway is shut down in both directions from southern Sangamon County to northern Montgomery County, and drivers are encouraged to find alternate routes.

A vehicle on fire on Interstate 55 on Monday. Authorities say 40 to 60 passenger cars and 30 big-rigs were involved in multiple crashes in both directions. The interstate remains closed through Tuesday as vehicles and debris are cleared.

Starrick said such blinding dust storms have happened before on Illinois roads “where unfortunately you have excessively high winds” that blow the topsoil from fields. Farmers are planting fields across Illinois and the Midwest.

Starrick said I-55 would be closed until late morning or early afternoon Tuesday.

“Visibility in the area is reported to be low due to blowing dust,” Illinois State Police said earlier in a statement. “Traffic is urged to seek alternate routes.”

The Auburn Travel Center in Divernon was established as a reunification spot for travelers.

Contributing: Mohammad Samra, Mary Norkol


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