PHOENIX (CBS5) – Authorities say they believe low visibility from a channel of blowing dust has caused a deadly multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 10 north of Picacho Peak.
The Department of Public Safety said three people are confirmed dead and several people have been seriously injured in the pile-up along westbound I-10 at milepost 214.More >
The Department of Public Safety said three people are confirmed dead and more than a dozen others have been injured in the pile-up along westbound I-10 at milepost 214.
Several medical helicopters were seen on television footage taking some of the injured to hospitals. Injuries range from minor to severe, police authorities said.
The next-of-kin of one of the victims, identified as Gordon Lee Smith, 76, of Mead, WA, has been notified.
Nineteen vehicles were involved in the collision – 10 semitrailers and nine passenger vehicles.
“It looks like one big event right now but in reality its probably a series of collisions,” said DPS Capt. Brian Preston. “So you may have collisions one and two that became part of three and four.”
TV footage showed passenger cars crumpled and tractor-trailers smashed.
The crash happened at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. By 7 p.m., the interstate was still closed, with a 10-mile backup in each direction, the Arizona Department of Transportation.
DPS said right after the crash, military personnel with medical backgrounds were traveling to Phoenix from Tucson and came across the scene. They assisted with providing care until crews arrived on scene.
“It’s very different than what we think of during the monsoon. In this case, a steady southwest wind created channels of dense, blowing dust. Unfortunately, one of those localized channels of dust ended up over a busy Arizona interstate,” Chief Meteorologist Chris Dunn said.
Henry Wallace was one of the first to notice the blowing dust ahead.
“One truck hit another truck,” Wallace said. “Cars start piling into each other and they pushed that one truck right into me and off to the side of the road.”
Wallace had gotten out of his truck just seconds before.
“I couldn’t see anything because the sand was so thick but I could just hear it, ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.'”
Interstate 10 eastbound reopened at 7:50 p.m., according to ADOT.
Westbound I-10 reopened about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.