LORDSBURG, New Mexico - State officials said Tuesday an “abrupt change” in weather patterns caused the deadly 25-car-pileup in the westbound lanes of I-10 Monday night.
The pileup was near the Arizona-New Mexico border.
“It took them by surprise, absolutely,” said Officer Carl Christiansen, a spokesman for New Mexico State Police.
Six people, including two from El Paso, died in the crash involving semi-trucks, vehicles and motorcycles. It is not yet known exactly how many were injured.
Christiansen said a surge of wind blew dust and debris in the area, causing a brownout. Because the weather change was so instantaneous, state officials did not have time to close off the highway, he said.
“It happened very quickly,” Christiansen said. “Within five to ten minutes it went from 'visibility was fine' to 'no visibility.’”
Christiansen said normally, the state will "make the appropriate detours and shut down the interstate.”
Darr Shannon is a commissioner for Hidalgo County.
"My family’s been here 127 years," said Darr Shannon, a commissioner for Hidalgo County. "For decades this has been happening."
While there are signs along the highway warning residents of dust storms, Shannon said it's impossible to spot in low visibility.
"You can’t watch for that kind of dust,” she said.
Shannon admitted it's difficult to find a solution.
Jason Laney, with the National Weather Service, told ABC-7 the wall of dust that hit the area was caused by a storm system 25 miles away.
"Those dust storms, you can't see them," said Leo Olivarez, a trucker from Lindberg, Texas.
He wasn't aware of last night's accident, but he has seen his fair share of dangerous dust storms.
"All of a sudden, the next thing you know, you're (in) them," Olivarez said.
The El Pasoans killed in the wreck were identified as 77-year-old Jose Manuel Clemente and 38-year-old Maurella Clemente Muñoz.
Three Phoenix residents died, including a nine-month-old child. They were identified as 30-year-old Jose Elias Caraveo-Serrano, 29-year-old Susana Caraveo and nine-month-old Julissa Caraveo.
The California resident was identified as 47-year-old Josefina Silva, of Escondido.
The accident is still under investigation.
The Red Cross website has several recommendations for drivers caught in a dust storm. Drivers should never stop in the travel lane and sound their horns at periodic intervals. If a car cannot pull off the road, the website recommends that drivers turn their lights on, but if a driver can pull of the road, they should turn their lights off.
Wil Herren, Esme Ojeda, Denise Olivas, David Avila and Shaun Felice contributed to this story.