San Francisco Dust Storm

A blinding dust storm trapped hundreds of holiday motorists on Interstate 5 in the San Joaquin Valley on Friday, leaving at least six people dead and more than 50 injured in a series of chain-reaction accidents, the California Highway Patrol said.

A CHP spokeswoman said as many as 100 cars and big-rig trucks slammed into one another about 2:40 p.m. on the highway approximately 45 miles north of Coalinga.

Dust from fields barren from years of drought was driven by winds gusting to 40 miles per hour, shroudinga heavily traveled section of Interstate 5 today and causing pileups that killed 12 people and injured about 150, the authorities said.

Visibility on the highway, California's main north-south thoroughfare, was reduced to zero by the strong wind and dust. The accidents occurred on a four-mile stretch of road about 15 miles north of Coalinga, and rescue efforts were being complicated by the severe weather conditions, the California Highway Patrol said.

At least 100 cars, many of them carrying Thanksgiving holiday travelers, and tractor-trailers were involved in the wrecks, which began around 2:30 P.M., said Capt. Ted Eichman of the California Highway Patrol. The authorities said vehicles were scattered across the highway and into two adjoining fields.

Scores of cars and trucks still lay in burned and tangled heaps on California's main north-south highway this afternoon, a day after colliding in a blinding dust storm. The authorities said 17 people had been killed and as many as 150 injured in one of the worst chain-reaction accidents in the nation's history.

Occasional gusts of white dust continued to swirl across the highway here, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as tow trucks triedto untangle the 93 cars and 11 tractor-trailer trucks. Some were blackened and melted, with small pools of chrome on the roadway beside them. Some had apparently exploded, with parts of vehicles lying here and there.

Most of the dead apparently were killed inside their cars. Only two bodies were found on the ground. Scattered around them lay the belongings of passengers in the wrecked cars: a can of hairspray, a pair of jeans, a radio, a small child's shoe, a bottle of dishwashing liquid and a teddy bear.