LANCASTER, Calif. – A dozen vehicles slammed into one another when a blinding sandstorm surprised motorists Tuesday in the high desert north of Los Angeles, killing at least two people and injuring 16.
Two of the hurt were in critical condition after the crash that left vehicles scattered across Highway 14, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.
The pileup was reported around 1:40 p.m. during a sandstorm whipped by winds gusting up to 55 mph, the National Weather Service said.
Eight vehicles and four big rigs were involved in the pileup, fire officials said.
"Everybody just came to an abrupt stop. There were people that were speeding and unfortunately I don't know if they made it through or not," Anthony Valdespino told KCAL-TV. "I had lost sight of them."
He said he heard brakes screeching all around him.
"I've never seen dust like that," said Valdespino, adding that he drives through the area daily. "I've lived out here most of my life and I've never seen dust that thick like that before."
The accident happened just west of Edwards Air Force Base and at the northern edge of Los Angeles County. The pileup was about 40 miles northeast from the sight of a fiery truck pileup Friday night in a tunnel on the Interstate 5 freeway in Santa Clarita.
The cause of that crash, which killed three people and injured 10, is still under investigation. Authorities said 31 vehicles, including one passenger car and dozens of big rigs, piled up in a chain-reaction crash inside the tunnel that carries truck traffic through the area toward Los Angeles.
Tuesday's crash left big rigs and passenger cars scattered and bent on the pavement and dirt center divider, according to aerial views from television helicopters that had trouble keeping a signal because of the wind.
The weather service issued a dust storm warning for the Antelope Valley Tuesday afternoon, cautioning that blowing dust in the region could reduce visibility to near zero.
"It's not unheard of for the area to experience a dust storm, but it's not an everyday type of thing," said meteorologist Jaime Meier in the weather service's Oxnard office.
Like the rest of California, the Antelope Valley has been bone-dry this year, receiving less than two inches of rain. The dryness means dirt and sand are not packed down in the ground and are more likely to swirl in the face of strong winds.
"It's just loose and is able to impact visibility just the same way as a blizzard," Meier said.