ST. GEORGE — A severe thunderstorm on Thursday ushered in torrential rain and gusty winds that pummeled motorists and overturned three semitractor-trailers on southbound Interstate 15. Hours earlier, the northbound side of the interstate was closed when two semis collided – leaving travelers in a backup of traffic that extended as far as the eye could see.
Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Thomas Callister said shortly after 9 p.m. MST, he was on the shoulder of southbound I-15 near mile marker 7, just south of Littlefield, when a microburst thunderstorm “came out of nowhere,” darkening the skies and leaving drivers unable to see.
“I’ve never seen a thunderstorm that severe hit so quickly,” he said, adding that visibility was reduced to “absolutely zero.”
Within minutes of the storm’s arrival, Callister was dispatched to a crash involving two semi trucks near mile marker 10, about a mile north of Beaver Dam, where emergency personnel arrived to find both semis overturned and blocking the two southbound lanes of travel.
Callister said one of the semi drivers told troopers he was unable to see anything in front of him, so he stopped in the right-hand lane until visibility improved. A second semi pulling triple trailers stopped alongside the first truck for the same reason – the driver could no longer see the road in front of him.
Strong winds whipping across the interstate grew stronger until they reportedly lifted the semi stopped in the outside lane. It toppled over onto the triple-trailer truck, leaving both semis disabled and blocking the two lanes of travel.
“The wind literally lifted this semi until it tipped over,” Callister said. “And then it landed right on top of the semi pulling the triple trailers.”
A motorist traveling behind the semis pulled up alongside one of the overturned semis to help the driver trapped inside. Using the bed of the pickup truck, the two “good Samaritans” reached into the semi and assisted the driver in climbing out of the cab. A photo of the rescue was captured by a bystander and can be seen below.
Meanwhile, less than a mile ahead, another fully-loaded semi stopped in the travel lane was also blown over onto its side. With three semi trucks disabled in the roadway, both sides of the interstate were shut down.
As responders were tending to the scene, two vehicles collided on the northbound side, which police say resulted from a driver who was distracted by the crash and rear-ended the car in front of them.
Shortly thereafter, he said, the northbound lanes were reopened. The southbound side, however, remained closed as multiple heavy wreckers and a front loader were called in to pull all three semis upright so the disabled trucks and trailers could be towed from the scene.
It wasn’t until 1:41 a.m. on Friday that the roadway was cleared and both southbound lanes were reopened for travel.
While troopers were handling the crashes on I-15, five power poles in the Beaver Dam area blew over, causing extensive damage and power outages in northern Arizona. Crews were dispatched to make repairs. Even with visibility reduced by the storm, Callister said he could see bright-blue flashes when the lines arced as the poles blew over.
Just before the incident involving the two semis took place, the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for north central Mohave County in northern Arizona, including northeastern Clark County in southern Nevada at 7:51 p.m. MDT. The storm system was moving southwest at 20 mph, with winds expected to be up to 60 mph.
Within minutes of the weather alert, the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a closure alert on southbound Interstate 15 due to the incident at mile marker 10 near Littlefield.
Several hours earlier, the northbound side of I-15 near mile marker 114 in Mesquite was shut down following a crash involving two semis at approximately 1 p.m. MDT. One of the semis rear-ended the other, causing extensive damage to the front of the trailing truck, Mesquite Fire Captain Spencer Lewis said.
The damage disabled the truck, he added. And the northbound side of I-15 was closed for more than two hours to allow responders to tend to the scene and clear the roadway.
Mesquite Police Sgt. Wyatt Oliver said he became aware of the crash due to the sudden influx of traffic. Motorists were diverted off the interstate in Mesquite.
The closure caused traffic to back up for nearly 20 miles, Callister said, which took several hours to clear.
The earlier incident is being investigated by the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Following the three incidents involving five semis, two vehicles, traffic backups and a series of lane closures that left motorists stranded for hours, no injuries were reported.
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