Blinding Calif. sandstorms cause highway wrecks, killing at least 4 people




By Gillian Flaccus

LANCASTER, Calif. – Wind advisories were extended Wednesday following blinding sandstorms that helped trigger several car pileups north of Los Angeles that killed at least four people and injured dozens of others, authorities said.

The sandstorms struck Tuesday as wind gusted to 55 mph in the arid high desert .

Advisories warning of gusts up to 50 mph were extended through late Wednesday, and more strong wind was likely in the area from late Thursday into Friday, the National Weather Service said.

The largest crash scattered vehicles across state Highway 14 just west of Edwards Air Force Base on the northern edge of Los Angeles County.

Two people were killed and 25 were taken to hospitals, two of them in critical condition, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

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At least 15 vehicles were involved in three separate collisions on a one-mile stretch of Highway 14, California Highway Patrol Officer Henry Ross said. The crashes were still being investigated, but Ross said poor visibility and high wind “didn’t help matters at all.”

“It was just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom for 10 or 15 minutes,” Gary Goerges, a Northern California motorist passing through, told the Antelope Valley Press.

Nearby at the town of Mojave, two people were killed and eight were injured in separate accidents about 1,000 yards apart along state Highway 58, CHP Lt. Dana Leach said. About six vehicles were involved in the crashes.

Like the rest of California, the Antelope Valley has been bone-dry this year, receiving less than 2 inches of rain.

“It’s not unheard of for the area to experience a dust storm, but it’s not an everyday type of thing,” said meteorologist Jaime Meier in the weather service’s Oxnard office.

The Highway 14 accidents occurred about 40 miles northeast of the Interstate 5 tunnel where a blazing truck pileup killed three people Friday night in Santa Clarita.

The cause of that crash, which killed three people and injured 10, was still under investigation. Authorities said it involved 31 vehicles, including one passenger car and dozens of tractor-trailer rigs.