Interstate 10 has reopened in both directions following multiple crashes in the Picacho Peak area Tuesday, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (AP) -- 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.
Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak reopened at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Arizona Department of Public Safety officials identified one of those killed as George 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.
"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," driver Henry 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.
"That area of I-10 is historically known for these major dust storms, these blowing dust storms that come through, said Officer Carrick Cook with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.. "At the time of this crash there were reports that there was zero visibility in the road and with these dynamic systems that come through so quickly people are often surprised by it."
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.
DPS spokesman Bart Graves said Tuesday's crash was one of the worst chain-reaction accidents in that area in the past seven years.
"This could be 3, 4 or even 5 crashes. That’s where the interview comes in with the drivers and witnesses," explained Cook. "But we are investigating this as one major incident so this will all go into one major report."
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ADOT and the Arizona Department of Public Safety recommend the following driving tips when encountering a low-visibility dust storm:
•Avoid driving into or through a dust storm.
•If you encounter a dust storm, check traffic immediately around your vehicle (front, back and to the side) and begin slowing down.
•Do not wait until poor visibility makes it difficult to safely pull off the roadway — do it as soon as possible. Completely exit the highway if you can, away from where other vehicles may travel.
•Do not stop in a travel lane or in the emergency lane; look for a safe place to pull completely off the paved portion of the roadway.
•Turn off all vehicle lights, including your emergency flashers.
•Set your emergency brake and take your foot off the brake.
•Stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts buckled and wait for the storm to pass.
•Drivers of high-profile vehicles should be especially aware of changing weather conditions and travel at reduced speeds.
•Be alert that any storm can cause power outages to overhead roadway lighting and traffic signals. Drive with caution and treat all intersections without signals as having stop signs in all directions.
For more information driving tips, please visit PullAsideStayAlive.org.
For the most current information about highway closures and restrictions statewide, visit ADOT’s Travel Information Site at www.az511.gov, follow us on Twitter (@ArizonaDOT) or call 5-1-1.