A “near apocalyptic” dust storm has caused a 27-vehicle pileup in rural Nevada, killing a lorry driver and leaving several other people fighting for their life.
Blinded by dust as the storm tore across Interstate 80, vehicles began ploughing into each other at around 5pm on Monday, dramatically stretching limited emergency resources in sparsely populated Humboldt County.
Officials at Humboldt General Hospital said drivers reported “near apocalyptic” conditions during the pile-up, which shut down a major trucking route in both directions for over 19 hours.
Humboldt County sheriff's dispatchers called in virtually every medical, law enforcement and fire worker in the area, with a mine rescue crew pitching in to help, and a charter bus company, Coach America, sending a vehicle to transport victims to hospital in an effort to lighten the load on limited ambulance services in nearby Winnemucca.
Chicago resident Ravi Dyer was killed when his lorry rear-ended another commercial vehicle in zero-visibility conditions, according to Nevada’s Highway Patrol. Two other lorries then ploughed into the 51-year-old from behind, seriously injuring his passenger.
Humboldt General Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Maher said 26 people were treated at the hospital, including three in critical condition who were later transferred to a hospital in much-larger Reno, about 160 miles away.
High winds whipped up dust — possibly loose from recently cleared fields — and created whiteout-like conditions, authorities said. Vehicles, including semitrailers, passenger cars and a tow truck piled up in both directions.
Images from the scene showed crunched-up vehicles, at least one overturned SUV, and damaged big rigs with their loads spilling onto the road.
Maher said took almost four hours to release one person from a vehicle, with traffic still being diverted more than 12 hours later.
Incident Commander Ken Whittaker praised officials from Humboldt County who brought in water trucks to break-up the dust, allowing emergency crews to reach and rescue the victims.