Dust storms are a fact of life for residents of the Southwest. But a historic drought has turned conditions deadly in New Mexico.
On Thursday, May 22, 2014, seven people were killed in an eight-vehicle collision amid a dust storm near Lordsburg. According to troopers with the New Mexico State Police, an unidentified motorist was behind the wheel of an eastbound vehicle as it traveled along Interstate 10, near mile marker 6, not far from the border with Arizona.
Around 5:25 p.m., the flying dust obscured his vision and the driver applied his brakes sharply. His vehicle was then struck from behind, touching off a chain reaction that involved three semis, three cars, and a camper.
State troopers and officers with the New Mexico Motor Transportation Division Police report that the three semis and three cars caught fire and were fully engulfed. The camper suffered lesser fire damage.
What causes dust storms in Albuquerque?
The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that conditions in parts of Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico are worse than the “Dust Bowl” days of the 1930s. According to the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Department of Health, dry conditions break down soil, making it easier for the wind to carry particles away.
This can be disastrous for driving. When drivers lose visibility at high speeds, they have less time to react and make decisions.
Travelers caught up in dust storms should reduce speed and pull onto the shoulder. Never stop in the roadway, as this can be dangerous.
One of the deceased victims of the May 22 tragedy has been identified as 54-year-old Tucson, Arizona resident Hyon Suk Head. Mr. Head was traveling in a 2013 Mercedes.
Three occupants of a 1995 Ford van were also killed: 9-year-old Wyatt Wallace, 43-year-old Larissa M. Wallace and a third, unidentified victim from Circle City, Arizona.
A 2002 Honda Civic was also involved in the crash and three occupants died. The deceased were 40-year-old Tucson, Arizona resident Morgan Earle Cole, 38-year-old Tucson, Arizona resident Marine Guttuso, and 40-year-old Tucson, Arizona resident Joseph Guttuso.
The same storm system caused chaos throughout the region. Large hail reportedly triggered several car accidents.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation reports a higher-than-average number of alerts related to dust storms and powerful winds.
Meteorologists say so-called “dry thunderstorms” and “brown out” conditions are common in the vicinity of U.S. Route 550 near Bernalillo, U.S. Route 491 near the “Four Corners” of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, and off Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque.
Winds of 200 mph spun up a 1,000-foot curtain of dust in New Mexico and West Texas back in March.
In 2011, The New Mexico Department of Transportation created its Dust Control System, in conjunction with New Mexico State University. The system was installed along Interstate 10 near mile-markers 11 and 10, near the La Playa region.
It uses an Ultrasonic Wind Sensor, a Weather/Visibility Detector, a Video Monitoring System, and other features. Two installations were done at a cost of $200,000 for two installations.
Were you injured in a dust storm accident?
Dust storm accidents often involve serious injury. Many victims will benefit from having an experienced personal injury attorney. Why should you consider consulting an attorney following a dust-storm accident?
- The seriousness of injuries, which sometimes result in death, gives the insurance company reason to get involved as quickly as possible in order to limit their liability. Insurance companies want to pay the victim as little as possible.
- Dust storm accidents often involve multiple vehicles. Anytime that multiple cars or trucks are involved, an investigation should be conducted on behalf of the victim. Insurance companies also perform an investigation, so it is important to level the playing field.
- Commercial vehicles, such as semi-trucks are frequently involved in dust storm accidents. A qualified attorney can investigate the at-fault driver, to identify any applicable policy, such as a multi-million dollar policy often tied to commercial vehicles.