Seven people are dead and several more were critically injured when authorities say a sand or dust storm caused visibility issues that led to a series of crashes involving 20 vehicles in Utah Sunday evening.
The crashes happened on I-15 near Kanosh, the Utah Department of Public Service (DPS) said in a news release.
Several people were transported to local hospitals in critical condition, officials said. Authorities did not specify how many people were injured but noted there could be more fatalities.
“It appears that 20 vehicles were involved in Sunday’s crashes after high winds caused a sand or dust storm and impaired visibility on the roadway,” the release said. “The Utah Highway Patrol summoned troopers from Richfield and Beaver to assist. Multiple ground and air ambulances also responded to transport victims.”
Images of the crash site show multiple tractor trailers and several damaged passenger vehicles littering the road, with debris scattered for yards. At least one vehicle appears to have had its passenger doors ripped off.
DPS closed the road in both directions following the crash, which occurred just before 5 p.m., officials said.
A strong thunderstorm was reported southeast of Kanosh around 4:30 p.m., with strong winds occurring as the storm decayed, CNN Meteorologist Gene Norman said. A nearby report of a 51-mph wind gust was also recorded.
The crash occurred in a region that is experiencing some of the worst drought conditions in the country, which makes dust storms more likely. The entire state of Utah is in the two most extreme drought categories as of last week, according to the US Drought Monitor.
Climate scientists have said this year’s historic drought is fueled by climate change, which decreases precipitation and causes more soil-drying heat waves.
Though the weekend thunderstorms brought beneficial rain to isolated areas, the precipitation wasn’t significant enough to prevent gusty winds from kicking up dust and dirt and carrying it for miles. The National Weather Service on Sunday noted a different storm, south of the crash, also created a dangerous dust storm.
Names of the crash victims won’t be released until 24 hours after their families have been notified, the release said.
Kanosh is about 155 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.