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At least six deaths, dozens hurt in pile-ups on I-55 south of Springfield

Nathan Cormier

Illinois State Police say at least six people died in a series of crashes south of Springfield on Interstate 55 today. The accidents happened around 10:55 a.m.

The name of one victim, Shirley Harper of Franklin, Wisconsin, 88, has been released. Three others have been identified, but their names are being withheld pending notification of family. Authorities said two were from Champaign and another from Florissant, Missouri.

More than 30 people, ranging in age from 2 to 80, were taken to hospitals. Injuries ranged from minor to life-threatening, according to the Illinois State Police.

As many as 40 to 60 passenger vehicles and about 20 commercial vehicles were involved near Milepost 76. Accidents occurred in both directions. Two commercial trucks caught fire.

Kevin Schott, Director of the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency, said it was a difficult scene

“Trying to get to the victims in a rapid manner. We had multiple vehicles involved. Some were on fire. So we had fires to extinguish. We had to search every vehicle, whether they were involved in the accident or just pulled over, to check for injuries,” Schott said.

His agency issued a statement that showed the seriousness of the situation.

"We have had a total of 10 helicopters requested with 4 on scene. Montgomery, Macoupin, Sangamon and Christian counties have a total of 37 ambulances dispatched to the accident. The Panhadle school has sent multiple school buses to transport stranded motorists from the scene. Hazmat has also been dispatched as a precaution," read a Facebook post.

State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick says gusty winds, blowing dust from recently plowed fields, resulted in zero visibility. A blowing dust warning was issued by the National Weather Service.

“My heart goes out to the families. My heart goes out to anyone who found themselves involved in this. It sounds like due to the low visibility, the high winds, everything just came together, unfortunately,“ he said.

The highway was closed in both directions for about 18 hours. It was reopened Tuesday morning.

Nathan Cormier

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