A chain-reaction accident involving at least 24 vehicles closed eastbound Interstate 90 for much of the day Thursday as emergency crews struggled in blowing dust, ash and smoke to remove cars and semis from a quarter-mile stretch above Vantage near the Columbia River.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Darren Wright said 13 people were injured, five of them seriously, but there were no fatalities.
Officially, WSP was saying late Thursday the cause of the accident was still under investigation. The state Department of Transportation, however, said on its website the collisions were caused by blowing ash and dust.
Traffic on the westbound lanes also was halted temporarily on that section of I-90 at the time of the incident because of poor visibility, and later to get tow trucks and emergency vehicles to the scene.
Jamie Vidinha, a waitress at Blustery’s Burger Drive-In at the Vantage exit, said she drove through the area on her way to work a half hour or so before the accident and said visibility was bad because of smoke and dust from a recent fire near Ryegrass. The last couple of days were calm, she said, but Thursday was windy.
“The wind blew and suddenly I couldn’t see anything, I had to slam on my brakes,” Vidinha said. She made it to work at the burger stand near the Vantage exit, but heard the crash not long after.
Wright said the accident involved nine semis and 15 or 16 cars – the counts still were being checked. Initial estimates for the number of vehicles damaged were higher, but some in the middle of the accident managed to come to a stop and escape damage, although they were trapped until the road could be cleared, he said.
Most vehicles were totaled, and at least a dozen tow trucks were needed to clear the road, with some making multiple trips. About a dozen troopers and sergeants were called to help investigate and clear the accident, and Kittitas County sheriff’s deputies helped with traffic control.
Eastbound traffic was rerouted off I-90 at Exit 115 through Kittitas to the old Vantage Highway, then through Vantage to reconnect with the interstate near the Columbia River bridge. Vidinha said that probably added about 15 minutes of travel time for most drivers, depending on the traffic.