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Six people reported dead after sudden dust storm hits US highway

Six people have reportedly been killed after a sudden dust storm caused a 21-vehicle crash on a US highway.

High winds and low visibility appeared to have contributed to the pile-up on Interstate 90, near Hardin, Montana.

Montana Highway Patrol sergeant Jay Nelson told the AP news agency that additional ambulances had to be called in from Billings, around 50 miles away, to help. Video from the scene showed limited visibility amid the dust storm and vehicles jammed underneath each other.

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Traffic was at a standstill for hours while officials tried to clear the wreckage. The crash occurred 19 miles east of Billings and three miles west of Hardin, the Billings Gazette reported. According to the Montana Department of Transportation, the pile-up occurred at about 4.50 p.m., causing the closure of both eastbound lanes in Bighorn County.

Video from The Billings Gazette showed hundreds of tractor-trailers, campers and cars backed up for miles along the two eastbound lanes of the interstate until at least 9pm. Governor Greg Gianforte wrote on Twitter: “I’m deeply saddened by the news of a mass casualty crash near Hardin.

"Please join me in prayer to lift up the victims and their loved ones. We’re grateful to our first responders for their service.” A so-far unspecified number of people were also injured in the incident.

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The National Weather Service reported that storms appeared in central southern Montana between 1pm and 2pm on Friday and slowly began moving east. These are said to have prompted a severe thunderstorm watch that covered Hardin and other parts of Montana from mid-afternoon until 9pm on Friday.

Meteorologists said authorities dealing with the incident could expect to be safe from additional winds and thunderstorms. The names and ages of the dead had not been released as of early today (Saturday). Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R), who oversees the Montana Highway Patrol, said in a statement on Facebookthat the agency and first responders were investigating the incident.

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