At least one man was killed and more than 15 were injured when a dust storm blinded motorists on Interstate 10 in Arizona between Tucson and Phoenix Tuesday, causing major traffic pileups involving dozens of vehicles.
One crash involving 16 vehicles — including a tractor-trailer that was involved in the fatality — occurred just after noon as a blanket of dust suddenly covered the highway about 40 miles north of Tuscon. A 70-year-old man was killed and his wife severely injured when their vehicle slammed into the back of a semi.
Another major pileup occurred about 90 minutes later on I-10 just north of Casa Grande and involved eight vehicles. That accident forced the closure of eastbound lanes of the Interstate about 20 miles from the first pile-up, state Public Safety Dept. spokesman Bart Graves told Reuters. No one was killed in the second accident, but several people were seriously injured, he said.
Gusting winds creating a wall of dust was a factor in the accidents and prevented a rescue helicopter from landing at either scene, he said. “Deputies reported zero visibility when they arrived at the scene.”
Dust storms routinely plague the area, said National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Shoemaker, who estimated sustained winds in the storm at 20 to 30 mph, gusting up to 50 mph. Walls of dust more than a mile high can blanket an area in a matter of seconds, sometimes reducing visibility to zero.
Motorists are advised to be alert as another weather system is expected to move into Arizona on Thursday that could generate gusts as strong as Tuesday’s.