Twenty-six vehicles slammed into each other during a sandstorm in rural Northern Nevada, killing one person, seriously injuring several others and sapping already-thin emergency resources, officials said.
Humboldt County sheriff’s dispatchers called in virtually every medical, law enforcement and fire worker in the sparsely populated area after drivers reported “near-apocalyptic” conditions Monday evening on Interstate 80 three miles west of Winnemucca, according to officials at Humboldt General Hospital there.
“This was certainly the largest (mass casualty event) we’ve ever experienced,” hospital spokeswoman Nicole Maher said Tuesday.
Fourteen people were taken to the Humboldt hospital, including three in critical condition, one in serious and 10 in fair condition, officials said. Three people were later transferred to a hospital in much-larger Reno, about 160 miles away, Maher said.
Officials have not yet released the identity of the person who was killed.
High winds about 5 p.m. Monday whipped up dust – possibly loose from recently cleared fields – and created white-out-like conditions, authorities said. Vehicles, including semitrailers, passenger cars and a tow truck piled up in both directions and shut down the highway, which is a major trucking corridor.
Images from the scene showed crunched-up vehicles, at least one overturned SUV and damaged big rigs with their loads spilling onto the road. Maher said it took about 3 1/2 hours to extricate one person from a vehicle.
Hospital officials said the emergency response included some unusual helpers. The Winnemucca Police Department brought in a police transport vehicle, and the Coach America charter bus company sent a vehicle to transport victims.
A mine rescue crew from Newmont Mining Corp. assisted, hospital officials said, along with the entire emergency room and operating room teams at the 52-bed Winnemucca hospital.
Incident Commander Ken Whittaker also praised officials from Humboldt County who brought in water trucks and helped quell the brown dust so emergency crews could help the victims.
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