Montana dust storm kills at least 6 people and causes pile-up on Interstate 90


At least six people were killed on Friday when a dust storm with winds reaching about 60 miles per hour hit a Montana freeway, causing a massive gathering of vehicles, according to authorities.

The accident on Interstate 90 outside of Hardin, Montana involved 21 vehicles, including six semi-trucks, Sgt. Jay Nelson, a spokesman for the Montana Highway Patrol, told the Associated Press. Ambulances were dispatched from far-flung Billings, Mont., about 50 miles away.

Video posted on social media shows vehicles scattered across the highway, including 18 wheelers who appear to have collided with vehicles or gotten into the median.

Authorities believe a “rapidly gathering dust storm” ultimately caused the pile-up. “It looks like there were strong winds that caused a dust storm with no visibility,” Nelson said.

A summary of the storm from the National Weather Service showed there were wind gusts of up to 64 miles per hour in Hardin around 4 p.m. local time on Friday.

The names and ages of the dead had not been released early Saturday. Authorities said there were casualties in the pile-up, but didn’t give exact numbers.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) continued to write Twitter that he was “deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty accident near Hardin.”

“Please join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their families,” he wrote. “We are grateful to our first responders for their service.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), who oversees the Montana Highway Patrol, said in a statement on Facebook that the agency and first responders are investigating the incident.

“We will release more information as it becomes available and appropriate out of respect for the lives lost and their loved ones,” Knudsen said. “My prayers go out to everyone affected by the tragic events of the dust storm in Big Horn County today.”

Thunderstorms on Friday afternoon led to strong wind warnings in the Billings area, according to the weather service. The National Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm warnings and warnings for south-central and southeast Montana on Friday.

The storms created surging winds known as drains, which were sent toward Hardin. In addition to the wind gusts, meteorologists had forecast possible isolated quarter-size hailstones and frequent lightning.

“This outflow cannot be seen on radar so take appropriate action now to be prepared for the weather!” The National Weather Service tweeted.

Accidents began around 4:50 p.m. local time on Friday, according to an accident map from the Montana Department of Transportation. Traffic on eastbound I-90 was suspended for hours, and the west side of the freeway was reduced to one lane.

Nick Vertz, a meteorologist with the Billings Weather Service, told the AP that winds of this type could easily kick up dust, which quickly obscured visibility.

“If they looked up at the sky in Hardin, they probably didn’t see much of what is meant by storm clouds, maybe not at all,” Vertz said. “It was just a gust of wind that came out of nowhere.” Montana dust storm kills at least 6 people and causes pile-up on Interstate 90

James Brien

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