Update – I-55 reopened Tuesday morning after being closed for 19 hours.

LITCHFIELD, Ill. — Illinois State Police say that I-55 is closed for 28 miles because of blackout conditions that started at around 11 a.m. on the highway. Wind gusts blew dirt from nearby farm fields across the road and reduced visibility, causing many crashes. The thick black smoke from vehicles damaged in the collisions let to more issues.

I-55 is shut down between Litchfield and Divernon, south of Springfield, Illinois. The Divernon City Hall being used as reunification center for families of people involved in the crash.

The National Weather Service says that driving is not recommended on I-55 north of St. Louis because of blowing dust. The 40mph gusts should continue through 8 p.m. Monday.

Illinois State Police Maj. Ryan Starrick says that about 37 people ranging in age from 2 years old to 80 have been taken to hospitals to be treated for injuries. They are being taken to hospitals in Springfield and Litchfield.

Six people have died in the crashes. Police said one of the victim is 88-year-old Shirley Harper of Franklin, Wisconsin. The Madison County Coroner’s Office is working to identify the rest of the victims.

Investigators said there were crashes on northbound and southbound I-55 that occurred around the same time from milepost 76 to milepost 78. Around 72 vehicles were involved in the crash. Two semi tractor trailers caught on fire.

Troopers say that this has happened before in the state of Illinois. High winds can blow loose, dry dirt, that has been recently turned over by farmers preparing their fields for the spring planting season.

Police are asking people to avoid this stretch of highway. Interstate 55 is currently shut down in both directions from milepost 63 to milepost 80. It may reopen late tonight or Tuesday.

  • Image credit: Nathan Cormier - Illinois dust storm
  • Image credit: Nathan Cormier - Illinois dust storm
  • Image credit: Nathan Cormier - Illinois dust storm
  • Image credit: Nathan Cormier - Illinois dust storm
  • Image credit: Nathan Cormier - Illinois dust storm

Nathan Cormier is a truck driver who is stuck on the highway. His videos and photos of the wreckage are going viral on social media. He tells FOX 2 that there appears to be many injuries.

“I have never seen a dust storm so bad that caused so much chaos and closed 20+ miles of highway. You could hear and feel cars exploding,” writes witness James Lewallen on Twitter.

Wind gusts have been 41mph at Lambert Airport and 44mph at Spirit Airport. Wind gusts at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport near Springfield have been up to 43 mph today.

Meteorologist Chris Higgins reports that a “Blowing Dust Warning” was issued by the National weather Service at Lincoln Monday afternoon. He says that this is the first one of these warnings ever issues by the Springfield Office. These warnings normally pop-up in the central and southern plains during the dry season when strong winds kick up.  They are very rare in Illinois.