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3 dead after dust storm causes pileup on Arizona highway

  • CORRECTION I-10 Crash_Cham.jpg

    October 29, 2013: Arizona Department of Public Safety officers investigate a multiple fatality accident involving six semi tractor-trailers and 19 other vehicles in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 10 south of Casa Grande, Ariz. Authorities say three people are dead and at least 12 others injured after a dust storm led to chain-reaction collisions. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Ron Medvescek)

  • 2942657_G.jpg

    An overhead view of the accident scene (MyFoxPhoenix.com)

Three people were killed and at least 12 injured after a dust storm led to multiple crashes Tuesday on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, authorities said.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officials identified one of those killed as Gordon Lee Smith, 76, of Mead, Wash.

They said Smith's wife was injured, but her condition wasn't immediately disclosed.

DPS officials said 19 vehicles -- 10 commercial vehicles, seven passenger cars, one tanker and one recreational vehicle -- were involved in chain-reaction collisions south of Casa Grande shortly after noon.

Television footage showed that several cars and tractor-trailers smashed into each other near Picacho Peak in south-central Arizona, with at least one passenger car pinned between two 18-wheelers and others wedged under big rigs.

Henry Wallace told KPHO-TV that he got out of his car just in time before the crashes began.

"One truck hit another truck. Cars start piling into each other, and they pushed that one truck right into me and off to the side of the road," Wallace said. "I couldn't see anything because the (dust) was so thick, but I could just hear it, `Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.' "

Medical helicopters airlifted several of the injured to hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix, and DPS officials said at least one person was in critical condition.

The names and hometowns of the other two killed weren't immediately available, authorities said.

The Picacho Peak area is prone to dust storms that develop suddenly and can quickly reduce visibility to zero for drivers.

The National Weather Service had issued a blowing dust advisory shortly before the crashes, with wind gusts of up to 30 mph reported in the area.

"A steady southwest wind created channels of dense, blowing dust," meteorologist Chris Dunn of the National Weather Service's Phoenix office told the television station. "Unfortunately, one of those localized channels of dust ended up over a busy Arizona interstate."

DPS investigators were interviewing survivors to determine the chain of events.

"This could be three, four or even five crashes. That's where the interview comes in with the drivers and witnesses," DPS Officer Carrick Cook said.

DPS spokesman Bart Graves said Tuesday's crash was one of the worst chain-reaction accidents in that area in the past seven years.

Parts of the westbound lanes of I-10 at the crash scene were closed for more than five hours.

The Arizona Department of Transportation recommends that motorists who find themselves in a dust storm pull completely off the paved portion of the road, turn off all lights including emergency flashers, set the emergency brake, keep feet off the brakes so others don't try to follow the tail lights, and stay in the vehicle with seat belts fastened.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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