PHOENIX — Three people were killed Tuesday after a dust storm caused multiple crashes on Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said.
The freeway was closed in both directions for several hours before reopening by about 10:30 p.m.
One of the people killed was 76-year-old Gordon Lee Smith of Mead, Wash. His wife, who was not identified, was injured in the crash and hospitalized.
The other two fatalities have not been identified.
DPS Officer Carrick Cook said the crashes were first reported around noon, when a severe thunderstorm was moving through the area. The storm kicked up a lot of dust and cut visibility to near zero.
Cook said that at least 19 vehicles were involved in the crashes.
“Ten commercial vehicles and they take up an area about 50 feet,” said DPS Officer Raul Garcia. “They’re almost crowded together in an oval shape. A lot of the sedans that were involved in this collision are actually underneath those commercial vehicles and tankers.”
Garcia said the crash generated a heavy emergency response.
“We probably have 30 emergency vehicles on scene that responded to this collision,” he said, adding that about 100 people who working to investigate and clear the scene.
More than a dozen people were injured in the crashes.
Interstate 10 was originally closed in both directions north of Picacho Peak as a result of the crashes. Traffic was getting around the crash on frontage roads.
Cook said the crashes serve as a grim reminder for drivers to pull completely off the road during dust storms and extinguish their lights to avoid being hit.