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Dust storm Montana: 2 kids among 6 dead after massive pileup on Interstate 90 west of Hardin

Two children are among six people killed in a pileup in Montana after a Friday night dust storm caused blackout conditions on Interstate 90, a major route in both Montana and the western U.S.

Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Jay Nelson said investigators have so far found no other factors that contributed to the pileup that also sent eight other injured people to hospitals.

“It’s all indicative of a single extreme weather event,” Nelson said of the investigation, calling the crash among the worst he’s seen in his 24 years with the state. “What could people do? It was a real panic.”

The stack was just west of Hardin, with additional ambulances called by Billings to assist. The identities of the dead and the condition of the survivors have not yet been released.

The crash was reported around 4:30 p.m., as 21 vehicles, including six commercial semi-trucks, spun out of control in the dust storm kicked up by gusts of more than 60 mph (97 km/h), authorities said.

Nelson said there was zero visibility for a mile during a summer rush hour for those returning home from work or traveling for outdoor recreation.

It took more than six hours for the road to be fully reopened.

“We had a lot of debris and total chaos,” Nelson said.

Gov. Greg Gianforte tweeted: “I am deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty near Hardin. Please join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their loved ones. We are grateful to our first responders for their service.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudchen said in a statement that the Montana Highway Patrol, which he oversees, is investigating. “We will release more information as it becomes available and appropriate out of respect for the lives lost and their loved ones.

A video from The Billings Gazette showed hundreds of tractor-trailers, RVs and cars backed up for miles along the interstate’s two eastbound lanes.

Ahead of the accumulation, thunderstorms appeared in central southern Montana between 1 and 2 p.m. and slowly began to move eastward, said Nick Vertz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings.

Those storms produced a powerful storm that blanketed Hardin and other parts of Montana from mid-afternoon to 9 pm Friday. Forecasters predicted the possibility of isolated hail the size of a quarter, scattered gusts of up to 75 mph (121 km/h) and frequent lightning.

A so-called outflow – or wind wave produced by storms – flew about 30 miles (48 kilometers) ahead of the storms, Vertz said.

Winds picked up quickly at the time of the crash, according to measurements at the nearby Big Horn County Airport. A gust of 40 mph (64 km/h) was recorded about 15 minutes before the crash was reported, and in less than an hour another wind gust hit 64 (103 km/h).

The wind was easily picking up dust — a product of recent temperatures in the 90s and triple digits for the past week — and reduced visibility to less than 1/4 mile (0.4 km).

“If they were looking up at the sky while they were in Hardin, they probably didn’t see much of what you would think of a storm cloud, maybe not much at all,” Vertz said. “It was just a wave of wind that came out of nowhere.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Dust storm Montana: 2 kids among 6 dead after massive pileup on Interstate 90 west of Hardin Source link Dust storm Montana: 2 kids among 6 dead after massive pileup on Interstate 90 west of Hardin

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