2 Dead In Blinding Sandstorm On LA Area Highway

Over a dozen vehicles slammed into one another when a blinding sandstorm surprised motorists Tuesday in the high desert north of Los Angeles, killing at least two and injuring 16.

Two of the injured were in critical condition after the crash that left vehicles scattered across Highway 14, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said.

The pileup was reported around 1:40 p.m. during a sandstorm whipped by winds gusting up to 55 mph, the National Weather Service said.

About 15 vehicles were involved in three separate collisions, said California Highway Patrol Officer Henry Ross.

He said the cause of the crashes were under investigation, but that poor visibility and high winds "didn't help matters at all."

A family of 11 visiting from Fortaleza, Brazil and on their way to Las Vegas were in a van that crashed.

Nine of them were injured and taken to Antelope Valley Hospital with broken arms, legs and lacerations, a family member said.

"All my family was in this van, all 11," a sobbing Fernando Amaral Pontes, 46, said.

Markan Rios, a passenger in the van, was visibly shaken as he waited next to the crumbled van for someone to take him and Pontes to the hospital.

"I couldn't see anything, it was too much and too quick," Rios said. "I was coming in and I saw the sand and we slowed down but the truck in front of us had stalled and we couldn't stop."

Anthony Valdespino, who drives through the area daily, told KCAL-TV that "everybody just came to an abrupt stop.

There were people that were speeding and unfortunately I don't know if they made it through or not."

Valdespino recalled the sound of brakes screeching all around him.

"I've never seen dust like that," he said. "I've lived out here most of my life and I've never seen dust that thick like that before."

The accident happened just west of Edwards Air Force Base and at the northern edge of Los Angeles County. It was about 40 miles northeast from the sight of a fiery truck pileup Friday night in a tunnel on the Interstate 5 freeway in Santa Clarita.

The cause of that crash, which killed three people and injured 10, is still under investigation.

Authorities said 31 vehicles, including one passenger car and dozens of big rigs, piled up in a chain-reaction crash inside the tunnel that carries truck traffic through the area toward Los Angeles.

Tuesday's crash left big rigs and passenger cars scattered and bent on the pavement and dirt center divider.

The CHP closed all northbound lanes of Highway 14, causing traffic to back up for miles.

The weather service issued a dust storm warning for the Antelope Valley Tuesday afternoon, cautioning that blowing dust in the region could reduce visibility to near zero.

"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.

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

The dryness means dirt and sand are not packed down in the ground and are more likely to swirl in the face of strong winds.

"It's just loose and is able to impact visibility just the same way as a blizzard," Meier said.

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