updated 8/12/2004 10:30:53 PM ET 2004-08-13T02:30:53

A blinding dust storm rolled across an interstate highway, causing a string of fiery crashes that killed four people and injured 42.

Authorities began pulling apart crumpled tractor-trailer rigs in search of other bodies early Thursday.

Twelve big rigs, along with a bus and nearly a dozen other vehicles, crashed Wednesday night on Interstate 10, authorities said.

“Cars and trailers and tractors were spewed across all lanes,” said Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve Volden. “It really and truly looked like a train wreck.”

Five wrecks on the interstate happened within 15 minutes of each other Wednesday — four in the Tonopah area about 45 miles west of Phoenix and a fifth 75 miles west of Phoenix.

One pileup began when a passenger vehicle stopped in the middle of the road, authorities said.

“This dust storm came in pretty quick,” said DPS Officer Erick Anspach. “Some drivers reported having only a second or two until impact.”

The accidents shut down the interstate, and emergency crews initially had a tough time reaching the crash scene, according to the DPS.

“We could see nothing but dust and smoke” upon arriving, said firefighter Nate Ryan.

Several vehicles caught fire after the collisions, Volden said.

One person in a car was burned beyond recognition and has not been identified. The driver of one rig was also killed when his vehicle was crushed under another truck. A wreck involving two cars and a truck killed two others.

Among those injured were a 10-month-old girl and her 10-year-old sister; the baby was in critical condition and her older sister was in fair condition at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Thursday.

More than two dozen others were treated at hospitals and released. At least 10 others were in good or fair condition. They included people from California, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Mexico.

The bus was apparently a charter belonging to Americano USA. State public safety Officer Norman Jones said the bus was westbound but he did not know its point of origin or its destination.

The bus was carrying 24 people, including two drivers, one of whom was in serious condition, Volden said.


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