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Oct 30, 2013 8:52 PM by Samantha Ptashkin

Deadly dust storms: what can be done to keep drivers safe?

TUCSON- Questions are surfacing the day after a deadly dust cloud enveloped milepost 214 along Interstate 10, causing a 21 car pileup. The accident killed three people, while eight were treated at UAMC for injuries.

"Honestly it looked like a bomb went off on I-10," says Patrick Calhoun of the Avra Valley Fire District.

Calhoun has worked for the district for about 10 years and has grown used to responding to crashes along I-10 between mileposts 211 and 220. "The second the winds pick up stronger than 25 miles per hour we're thinking about how we need to get ready," Calhoun says.

According to ADOT, between 2001 and 2010, there have been 30 crashes along I-10 between MP 211 and MP 220. Three of those crashes were fatal. All were caused by weather related issues such as high winds or blowing dust.

ADOT spokesperson Dustin Krugel tells News 4 Tucson via email, the reason is most likely because there are large pockets of dry land in the area. When the dirt loosens in between growing seasons, dust goes flying.

Following a deadly pileup just north of Casa Grande in October 2011, ADOT launched its "Pull Aside, Stay Alive" safety campaign in June 2012. The campaign teaches drivers to pull to the side of the road, if visibility is reduced.

Prior to Tuesday's pileup at MP 214, Krugel says there were not any dust storm related fatalities since the safety campaign started.

But Ken Drozd of the National Weather Service in Tucson says the "pull aside" method may not always be possible. "During the monsoon, the dust clouds usually run parallel to the interstate," Drozd says. "So if you're driving into it or away from it, you can see it for a long time and have the opportunity to pull over."

Drozd says in Tuesday's incident the dust was traveling 25 to 35 miles per hour, blowing perpendicular to the interstate, which means by the time drivers saw it, they didn't have much time to react.

ADOT wants drivers to be aware any time there is a change in weather conditions. Krugel says sometimes the posted speed limit may not be appropriate.

ADOT posts message boards along the interstate to alert drivers if there is blowing dust in the area.

As far as other solutions, Krugel issued this statement: "There are no feasible engineering solutions that ADOT could install to prevent dust from crossing I-10 in the region between Phoenix and Tucson. The region's policymakers and stakeholders, including private landowners, may hold the key to dust control efforts away from the highway."

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