Authorities estimate about 50 vehicles were involved in multiple collisions on Interstate 82 Saturday afternoon amidst blowing dust.
Nine people were taken to Tri-City hospitals, but none had life-threatening injuries, said Capt. Devin Helland of Benton Fire District 1.“For as many cars as were damaged and hit, it was remarkable that so few people were injured,” he said.
Most of the collisions were between the Highway 395 entrance to Interstate 82 just south of Kennewick and the Locust Grove overpass. They included cars travelling north and south.
Helland described them as mostly rear-end collisions and spin-outs that then were hit by other vehicles as dust reduced visibility.
The crashes started around 3:30 p.m. as dust blew from west of the interstate. Shortly after Benton Fire District 1 arrived on scene, the wind shifted and visibility improved, Helland said.
Law enforcement officers and the Washington State Department of Transportation blocked traffic from entering Interstate 82.
The Washington State Patrol reported that six of the people who were injured were in a four-car collision near the Highway 395 entrance to Interstate 82 at 3:30 p.m.
Three of the cars had pulled off the road onto the shoulder and had stopped when the northern-most parked car was hit by a southbound Chevy Impala, causing the string of parked cars to be pushed together.
The people taken to Trios Hospital in Kennewick included Michell Schrattenholzer, 47, Alex Schrattenholzer, 18, and Paulina Schrattenholzer, 16, all of Plymouth; Edward Swartz, 57, and Sharon Swartz, 56, of La Grande, Ore.; and Jessica Lindblom, 18, of Kennewick.
Michell Schrattenholzer was driving the car that hit the first parked car, the state patrol said.
By 6:30 p.m. Interstate 82 had been reopened southbound, and northbound traffic was being directed on detours to reach the Tri-Cities. By about 7 p.m. Interstate 82 was open both directions.
A storm with wind gusts and some showers and isolated thunderstorms moved over the Mid-Columbia on Saturday from about 3 to 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Benton Fire District 1 advises drivers to increase their visibility in dust storms by turning on headlights and emergency flashers, and increasing the distance between cars.
Also Saturday afternoon, Highway 24 was closed just west of Hanford’s Yakima Barricade when a semitruck overturned, spilling apples across the highway.
The highway reopened about 7:40 p.m. after the fruit was picked up and the semi moved.
Earnest Milligan, 54, of Moses Lake, took a curve too fast at 4:11 p.m. and overturned the semi, the state patrol said.
A Volkswagen Passat driven by a Yakima man and that was near the Highway 24 eastbound stop sign was damaged by falling apple bins and fruit.