AP – Six people have died after a dust storm fuelled by wind gusts topping 97 kilometres per hour (kph) caused a pileup on Friday evening on Interstate 90 in Montana, authorities said.
Twenty-one vehicles crashed and Montana Highway Patrol Sergeant Jay Nelson said authorities believe the weather was the cause.
“It appears as though there was heavy winds, causing a dust storm with zero visibility,” he said.
While the highway patrol did not have an immediate count of the number of injuries, Nelson said additional ambulances had to be called in from Billings to help.
Governor Greg Gianforte said on Twitter: “I’m deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty crash near Hardin. Please join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their loved ones. We’re grateful to our first responders for their service.”
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who oversees the highway patrol, said in a statement: “The Montana Highway Patrol is on the scene with other first responders and investigating the incident.
“My prayers are with everyone affected by the tragic events during the dust storm in Big Horn County today,” Knudsen added.
The incident happened five kilometres west of Hardin. A video from The Billings Gazette showed hundreds of tractor-trailers, campers and cars backed up for miles along the two eastbound lanes of the interstate.
The dust storm’s roots can be traced back several hours, when storms popped up in central southern Montana between 1 and 2pm and began moving east, according to National Weather Service meteorologist in Billings Nick Vertz.
Those storms prompted a severe thunderstorm watch that covered Hardin and other parts of Montana from mid-afternoon until 9pm on Friday. Meteorologists forecasted the potential for isolated hail the size of a quarter, scattered wind gusts up to 121kph.