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 I-80 at Winnemucca, according to officials at Humboldt General Hospital there. A mine rescue crew also assisted, while a charter bus helped transport victims.
The pileup shut down the east-west corridor, a major trucking route, in both directions while workers cleared the scene of wrecked vehicles and debris. One side reopened after 19 hours, while the other remained closed early Tuesday afternoon.
Chicago resident Ravi Dyer, 51, was killed when his truck rear-ended another commercial vehicle in the zero-visibility conditions, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol. Two other trucks hit his from behind, seriously injuring his passenger.
Humboldt General Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Maher said 26 people were treated at the hospital, including three in critical condition who were later transferred to a hospital in much-larger Reno, about 160 miles away.
High winds at about 5 p.m. Monday whipped up dust — possibly loose from recently cleared fields — and created whiteout-like conditions, authorities said. Vehicles, including semitrailers, passenger cars and a tow truck piled up in both directions.
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 Tuesday that it took about 3 1/2 hours to extricate one person from a vehicle.
Traffic was still being diverted more than 12 hours later, troopers said.
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, Maher 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.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.