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Eight people are dead after a dust storm, fueled by the drought devastating the western United States, engulfed a portion of highway in central Utah Sunday afternoon.
Video of the crash’s aftermath, captured by drivers on the opposite side of the highway, shows a seemingly never-ending line of cars, trucks, and metal strewed across Interstate 15 in Millard County, Utah. The massive collision, which happened at around 4 p.m. Sunday, involved 22 vehicles and left eight travelers dead, including several children, and many others injured and in critical condition, according to authorities,
Local police said it’s one of the worst crashes they’ve ever seen—and climate change is to blame. The bone-dry conditions, catalyzed by the ongoing climate crisis, left excessive dirt and dust on the desert floor, which a thunderstorm subsequently whipped up, according to local weather reports.
“We have a little moisture in place, and that’s why we have these mountain thunderstorms in central Utah,” Chase Thomason said during a weather report on local station KUTV following the crash. “But there wasn’t enough moisture to equalize, and some really cool air came out of that thunderstorm, picked up the dust and the dirt, and blew it right onto I-15. And visibility just like that dropped to near zero.”
The storm overtook drivers on the highway with no warning, giving them no time to adjust their driving. The portion of road where the crash occurred, about 145 miles south of Salt Lake City, is still closed.
“I can't remember in recent memory of [a crash] being this large, with this many vehicles and this many fatalities,” Sgt. Cameron Roden of the Utah Highway Patrol told KUTV on Sunday. “We have vehicles all over. Several vehicles tried to swerve off the roadway. We have vehicles that are flipped up on their sides. One of the vehicles that was pulling a trailer, the trailer has pretty much completely been destroyed and is on the freeway."
As drought and abnormal weather patterns continue, dust storms—and their effects—are likely to become exponentially more frequent and intense in the coming decades.