MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) – At least six people are dead and dozens have been hospitalized after a multi-vehicle pileup south of Springfield, Illinois.
According to Illinois State Police, shortly before 11 a.m. CT Monday, officers were called to multiple crashes on both the northbound and southbound sides of Interstate 55.
Around the same time, authorities whiteout conditions due to the wind blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway.
Monday night, officials said 72 vehicles were involved in the crash. A total of 37 people – the youngest, 2 years old, and the oldest, 80 – were transported to area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.
Six people were killed, all in crashes in the northbound lanes, Illinois State Police said.
Officials said that one of the people who died has been identified as 88-year-old Shirley Harper of Franklin, Wisconsin. The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office is working to identify the other five individuals and notify their families.
According to Farmersville Waggoner Ambulance Service, a large number of vehicles were on fire and produced heavy smoke. ISP confirmed two commercial vehicles were on fire but were extinguished.
I-55 was shut down in both directions in Montgomery County, 75 miles north of St. Louis, and likely won’t reopen until Tuesday.
Video shared from the interstate, seen below, shows the near-blackout conditions and multiple vehicles that have crashed. At some points, it appears visibility is limited to just a few feet.
“The only thing you could hear after we got hit was crash after crash after crash behind us,” said Tom Thomas, 43, who was traveling south to St. Louis.
Evan Anderson, 25, who was returning home to St. Louis from Chicago, said a semi turned before striking his vehicle, sparing him from even more damage.
“You couldn’t even see,” Anderson said. “People try to slow down and other people didn’t, and I just got plowed into. There were just so many cars and semitrucks with so much momentum behind them.”
The National Weather Service has issued a blowing dust warning for three central Illinois counties until Monday night.
Winds at the time were gusting between 35 mph and 45 mph, the National Weather Service said.
“It’s very flat, very few trees,” meteorologist Chuck Schaffer said. “It’s been very dry across this area really for the last three weeks. The farmers are out there tilling their fields and planting. The top layer of soil is quite loose.”
Kevin Schott, director of emergency services in Montgomery County, said it was a “very difficult scene” and one that’s “very hard to train for.”
“We had to search every vehicle, whether they were involved in the accident or just pulled over, to check for injuries,” he said, adding that people were “upset — visibly so, understandably so.”
ISP said the investigation is in its early stages.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.