Seven killed as sandstorm in Utah causes a highway pile-up

The Utah Highway Patrol said it appeared that 20 vehicles were involved in the crash. PHOTO: UTAH HIGHWAY PATROL/TWITTER

UTAH (NYTIMES) - At least seven people were killed and several others were injured when a sandstorm that blinded drivers led to a pileup in southwestern Utah on Sunday (July 26) afternoon, state officials said.

The Utah Highway Patrol said it appeared that 20 vehicles were involved in the crash "after high winds caused a sand or dust storm and impaired visibility on the roadway".

"No one could see, so people started stopping, and then you just get a chain reaction," Trooper Andrew Battenfield, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said late on Sunday night. "Nobody could see, and then all of a sudden, you're slamming into a car," he said. "It's just a horrific situation."

Several people were taken to local hospitals in critical condition, officials said.

The crash, which happened around 5pm local time, prompted the closure of parts of Interstate 15 in Millard County, between Salt Lake City and St George.

The Highway Patrol said the road would be closed in the area for a "significant time". Details about the victims were not immediately available.

Mr Battenfield said officials did not know late on Sunday night how many people had been hospitalised.

"We don't even know how many for sure were hospitalised, this is how big of a crash it was," he said. "A lot of them are in critical condition."

Mr Battenfield said a "micro burst of wind in an area that didn't have a lot of vegetation", kick-started the crash.

Photos shared by the Highway Patrol appeared to show the wreckage of a vehicle pinned beneath a tractor-trailer. Another image showed a red vehicle that had been severed by a different tractor-trailer.

About an hour before the crash, a severe thunderstorm in Parowan, Utah, about 145km southwest of the crash, was stirring up dust and dirt, according to the National Weather Service office in Salt Lake City.

At the time, Parowan was under a severe thunderstorm warning, and the Weather Service said winds of up to 97kph were possible.

It was unclear whether the storm in Parowan was connected to the sandstorm in Millard County.

Dust storms are not uncommon in Utah, having occurred as recently as June and April in the state. A recent study published by Brigham Young University found that, in the north-central part of the state, 90 per cent of urban dust comes from dry lake beds.

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