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6 die in crashes as US dust storm blinds drivers

A dust storm that cut visibility to near zero on Monday triggered a series of chain-reaction crashes involving dozens of vehicles on an Illinois highway, killing six people and injuring at least two dozen others, authorities said.

Roughly 40 to 60 passenger cars and 30 commercial vehicles, including numerous tractor-trailer trucks, were involved in the pileup around 11 am CT (1200 ET) on Interstate 55 in southern Illinois, state police said in a news release.

Two of the big-rig trucks caught fire as a result.

The crashes occurred on both sides of I-55 along a 2-mile stretch of the highway near the town of Farmersville, about 200 miles (320 km) southwest of Chicago, police said, Reuters reports.

More than 30 people were transported to area hospitals with injuries, ranging from minor to life-threatening, and the patients ranged in age from 2- to 80-years-old, police said.

Joletta Hill, chief deputy for the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, confirmed by telephone that at least six people were confirmed dead from the accidents. No details were immediately available about the fatalities.

Local media posted video footage of the scene showing smashed cars and trucks crumpled against one another, some of them on the shoulder of the highway. The clip showed one truck burning amid a thick haze of dust and smoke.

State police said the pileups were caused by “excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway, resulting in zero visibility.”

A 17-mile stretch of the highway was closed in both directions for several hours, state police said.