TULSA — A massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate Thursday, forcing police to shut down part of the roadway amid near blackout conditions.
In a scene reminiscent of the Dust Bowl days, choking dust suspended on strong wind gusts shrouded Interstate 35, which links Dallas and Oklahoma City to Kansas City, Mo. Video from television station helicopters showed the four-lane highway virtually disappearing into billowing dust on the harsh landscape near Blackwell, plus dozens of vehicles scattered in the median and on the shoulders.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Jodi Palmer, a dispatcher with the Kay County Sheriff’s Office. “In this area alone, the dirt is blowing because we’ve been in a drought. I think from the drought everything’s so dry and the wind is high.”
The highway patrol said the dust storm caused a multi-car accident, and local police said nearly three dozen cars and tractor-trailers were involved. Blackwell Police Chief Fred LeValley said nine people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
State transportation workers were called into to close the highway between U.S. 60 and Oklahoma 11, an eight-mile stretch of the cross-country roadway. The stretch of closed roadway reopened Thursday evening after crews cleaned up debris and waited for winds to die down, Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said.