7 killed in dust storm crash west of Lordsburg

HIDALGO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Investigators found a 7th body in the charred aftermath of a crash caused by a dust storm in southern New Mexico. Unlike most snow or rain storms, brown-out conditions can happen in an instant, making the roadways disappear.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation says there are several stretches of roads in the state for drivers to take extra caution.

It was a shocking scene, as passengers on a Greyhound bus captured the burning wreckage from an eight-vehicle collision on Interstate 10 near Lordsburg Thursday.

The crash caused by a dust storm, left a horrific scene of twisted, blackened metal and seven badly burned bodies.

“I don’t recall an accident of this magnitude,” said Sergeant Damyan Brown, of the New Mexico State Police.

Investigators said it appears the driver of the lead car slammed on the brakes, when the dust suddenly cut visibility to zero, and that started a chain reaction. At least three other cars, an R.V., and three semis were involved.

Identifying the victims is difficult. “It is very difficult due to the fire, to identify even as simple as a license plate or a VIN number on the vehicles,” explained Sgt. Brown.

Dust storms often make New Mexico driving dangerous, especially on roads surrounded by loose sand.

The whole stretch of I-10 is notorious for brown-outs. In fact, warning signs are posted right at the site of Thursday’s pileup.

“For this particular year, we’ve seen a higher volume of notifications we send out in reference to dust storms, and high wind advisories,” said Bridget Spedalieri, NMDOT Spokesperson. “We are out there monitoring the roadways along with law enforcement trying to keep an eye open in case anything should happen.”

The drought has been especially bad in southwest New Mexico, where rainfall is off ten inches, which doesn’t help.

Rainfall is down 20 inches in southeast New Mexico, where winds up to 75-miles-an-hour have caused major pileups on U.S. 285 between Roswell and Artesia in recent years.

Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque, U.S. 491 in the Four Corners, and U.S. 550 near Bernalillo are also susceptible to dust storms that can come up quickly and catch drivers unaware.

If drivers are caught in a sudden dust storm, State Police say the best thing to do is slow down, pull off to the side if you can, but do not stop in the middle of the road. That’s how pileups happen.

NMDOT said they have crews monitoring roads during wind advisories to watch out for dangerous conditions. NMDOT posts updates for drivers along the road and online. For updates on driving conditions around the state, drivers can also call the Road Advisory Hotline by dialing 511.

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