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Two killed in blinding sandstorm on L.A.-area highway

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Written on 5:26 AM by yahoo

LANCASTER, California (AP) -- Markan Rios stood beside a crumpled van on a desert highway, bewildered and trembling as he clung to a white tennis shoe.

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More than a dozen vehicles were involved in a pileup during a sandstorm Tuesday north of Los Angeles.

It belonged to his girlfriend, who had just been whisked away by paramedics, but Rios -- a Brazilian tourist who speaks neither English nor Spanish -- had no idea where to find her. Another family member stood sobbing nearby and recalled seeing a deep gash across his wife's forehead before she, too, was taken away by ambulance.

"All my family was in this van, all 11," said Fernando Amaral Pontes, who had blood on his jacket sleeve and side.

Rios and Pontes were in one of more than a dozen vehicles that slammed into one another Tuesday during a blinding sandstorm in the high desert north of Los Angeles. The accident killed at least two and injured 16, including nine of the 11 people in Rios and Pontes' van.

Two of the injured were in critical condition after the crash that left vehicles scattered across Highway 14, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said

About 15 vehicles were involved in three separate collisions, said California Highway Patrol Officer Henry Ross. He said the cause of the crashes were under investigation, but that poor visibility and high winds "didn't help matters at all."

The accident happened just west of Edwards Air Force Base and at the northern edge of Los Angeles County. It was about 40 miles northeast from the site of a fiery truck pileup Friday night in a tunnel on the Interstate 5 freeway that killed three people and injured 10.

Tuesday's crash left big rigs and passenger cars scattered and bent on the pavement and dirt center divider.

Rios, 24, and Pontes, 46, were traveling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as part of a two-week vacation from their hometown of Fortaleza, Brazil. They were in the van with an American tour guide when the sand swirled up and blinded the driver, who barreled into a blue delivery van, Rios said.

"I couldn't see anything; it was too much and too quick," Rios said. "I was coming in and I saw the sand and we slowed down but the truck in front of us had stalled and we couldn't stop."

The pair eventually made it to Antelope Valley Hospital more than three hours after the accident, where a Portuguese translator helped them locate their family. Pontes also had a sore shoulder and a gash on his knee.

Police were investigating whether two other fatal collisions, which happened 20 miles north and two hours before the pileup, were also caused by strong winds.

The weather service issued a dust storm warning for the Antelope Valley Tuesday afternoon, cautioning that blowing dust in the region could reduce visibility to near zero.

"It's not unheard of for the area to experience a dust storm, but it's not an everyday type of thing," said meteorologist Jaime Meier in the weather service's Oxnard office.


by cnn

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