Police: Dust storm leads to 20 accidents on Interstate 10 in Arizona; some vehicles on fire

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dust storm leads to wrecks in Arizona

PHOENIX — A sudden dust storm has spawned 20 or more collisions Tuesday on Interstate 10 in central Arizona, with several vehicles catching fire.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety said at least one person died, and several others were flown to Phoenix hospitals, some with severe burns and other traumatic injuries.

Traffic backed up for miles as the major east-west thoroughfare was shut down in both directions at milepost 190 near Casa Grande, between Phoenix and Tucson. Dust and thick gray smoke from burning vehicles billowed across the flat sprawl of farms and desert.

The highway patrol said a commercial vehicle exploded, so a hazardous materials team was dispatched to the scene.

Video shot by a television helicopter showed the smoking hulks of several big-rig trucks, a passenger van and unrecognizable debris along about 300 yards of the eastbound lanes about 10 miles north of the junction with Interstate 8. In the westbound lanes, an injured person was loaded on a medical helicopter.

The highway was likely be closed in both directions for the better part of the day as state engineers look at the roadway, said Officer Robert Bailey, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

“ADOT engineers have to get out there and examine the pavement and see if it’s OK to be driven on after these fires,” Bailey said.

The storm arrived fast and furious Tuesday morning, said David Bridger, a spokesman for the city of Casa Grande.

“This one came on so very, very quickly,” Bridger said. “We knew it was something pretty serious coming. It is absolutely a major, major wind storm down here.”

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