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Arizona dust storm triggers I-10 pileups, kills at least one

October 4, 2011 |  6:49 pm

Arizona pileup

A blinding dust storm swept through the Arizona desert Tuesday, triggering three separate pileups that left one person dead and injured at least 18 others, authorities said.

The first wave of dust blew across Interstate 10 about 12:15 p.m., causing a pileup of 16 vehicles, including commercial trucks, about 40 miles north of Tucson, according to Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

A 70-year-old man was killed. His wife, who was driving, was taken to University Medical Center in Tucson with life-threatening injuries, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Carrick Cook said in an email.

The couple’s vehicle was “sandwiched between two commercial vehicles,” Graves told The Times.

Another 17 people were hurt.

About two hours later, emergency crews responded to another dust storm-related crash on a stretch of the same freeway about 20 miles north of Tucson.  

At least eight cars were involved in the second pileup, but rescue and cleanup efforts were hindered by near zero-visibility in the area, Graves.

“It’s tremendous chaos at the scene,” he said.

Officials have yet to release figures on deaths or injuries in the second pileup.

A third collision, involving two tractor-trailers and a small car, occurred about 4 p.m. on Interstate 10 near Chandler -- nearly 100 miles north of Tuscon. Two people in the car were seriously injured, officials said.

"Anytime the wind blows, it kicks up dust," said Mike Bruce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix. He stopped short of calling the storm a "haboob," a major sandstorm -- at least three of which have tormented Arizona this summer.

Dust storms are more common.

“There’s a risk of this happening in Arizona every time we get a strong wind until we get a significant amount of rainfall,” Bruce said.

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Photo: Public safety officials work the scene of a multi-car pileup along Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak, Ariz., on Tuesday. Credit: Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

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