DIVERNON, Illinois — Seven people died in a massive pileup on a section of Interstate 55 as winds and rain whipped up a blinding and dangerous cloud of dust on Monday. Officials said they reopened on Tuesday night after being closed for most of the day.
The death toll was previously thought to be six, but another body was found in the wreckage Tuesday afternoon.
Interstate lanes south of Springfield were closed in both directions in southern Sangamon County and northern Montgomery County, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Authorities sought help from the public to identify two of the seven people killed.
Illinois State Police Commissioner Brendan Kelly told reporters at a news conference Tuesday morning that at least 72 vehicles had crashed, killing seven people and injuring at least 37 others.
One victim, Shirley Harper, 88, of Franklin, Wisconsin, has been identified. Three others have been tentatively identified but have not been named.
The two victims, who remain unidentified, were traveling in a blue Chrysler 300 and a Hyundai. Kelly asked anyone who might have information to call (618) 346-3653.
State police said the people hospitalized in the pile ranged in age from 2 to 80, with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.
The accident occurred shortly before 11:00 am on Monday near the town of Divernon, about 16 miles south of Springfield. Kelly said 40 to 60 cars and several semi-finals were involved, two of which were set ablaze.
Illinois State Police Major Ryan Starrick said, “The cause of the crash was excessive wind that blew dirt from farmland across the highway and reduced visibility to zero.”
Interstate 55 was closed in both directions and didn’t reopen until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
“After we hit, all we heard was crash after crash behind us,” said 43-year-old Tom Thomas, who was heading south toward St. Louis.
Dairon Socaras Quintero, 32, was driving to St. Louis to deliver to a custom frame company based in Elk Grove Village when he got out of his car and pulled over to the side of the road after his truck struck the car in front of him. said to have moved to To ensure his safety, he returned after a chain reaction of crashes ended behind him.
Socaras Quintero confirmed another driver and said the dust continued to blow violently when paramedics arrived. He picked up the dust-covered backpack even though it was inside the cab of the truck, which was sealed.
Wind speeds at the time were between 35 and 45 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s very flat and has very few trees,” said meteorologist Chuck Shaffer. “It’s been very dry in this area for the last three weeks. It’s pretty loose.”
Twenty-five-year-old Evan Anderson, who was returning to St. Louis from Chicago, escaped further damage, saying he made a half-turn before hitting his car.
“You couldn’t even see,” said Anderson. “People tried to slow down, but other people didn’t. I just got caught up. There were so many cars and semi-trucks behind us and the momentum was there.”
Kevin Shot, director of emergency services for Montgomery County, said it was a “very difficult scene” and one that was “very difficult to train.”
“Whether it was involved in an accident or just rolled over, we had to inspect every vehicle for injuries.”
Authorities have set up waiting areas away from the crash site so travelers can reunite with friends and family.
Contributed by Associated Press
https://chicago.suntimes.com/2023/5/1/23707231/dust-storm-fatal-crashes-interstate-55-springfield Death toll rises to 7 in Massive Downstate Chain Reaction crash. I-55 reopened