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 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 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 5 p.m. 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.
Trooper Battenfield said officials did not know late Sunday night how many people had been hospitalized.
“We don’t even know how many for sure were hospitalized, this is how big of a crash it was,” Trooper Battenfield said. “A lot of them are in critical condition.”
Trooper Battenfield said a “microburst 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 90 miles 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 60 miles per hour 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 percent of urban dust comes from dry lake beds.