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Freak sandstorm

April 8, 2011

Dust and dirt whipped up by high winds blinded dozens of motorists on a north German highway on Friday, triggering a mass accident, which killed at least eight people and injured 60 others.

Mass accident on the AI9 beteween Berlin and Rostock
There was little left to save for firefightersImage: picture alliance / dpa

The sudden sandstorm, which struck south of the eastern German coastal town of Rostock, reduced visibility on the A19 autobahn to zero in a matter of seconds.

In both directions on the Berlin-Rostock motorway, cars and trucks crashed into each other. Police said that between 40-50 vehicles were involved and that 17 cars and three trucks caught fire. A hazardous materials transport was reportedly also among the wrecked vehicles.

At least eight people were killed and of the 60 people hurt, at least 27 were sent to surrounding hospitals with serious injuries. Numerous drivers were trapped in their cars.

wrecked cars and trucks outside Rostock
The scene of the accident was transformed into a pile of twisted metalImage: dapd

"This is the worst traffic accident the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania has ever seen," said police spokeswoman Yvonne Burand.

Along with his sympathy for those affected, German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer expressed his shock at the incident.

"Such extreme forces of nature show that there are limits even to the greatest efforts to ensure safety on our roads," said Ramsauer.

Police, emergency teams and firefighters rushed to the scene, but rescue helicopters were unable to land due to the poor visibility. High winds had been blowing since the early morning, which stirred up dirt from freshly planted fields in the predominantly rural area.

The German Weather Service said hurricane-like winds are nothing out of the ordinary in the region and that dust could easily be whipped up into the air if storms travelled inland across dry, bare fields.

"Storms like this are nothing unusual in the north of Germany," said weather service spokesman Gerhard Lux. "It is more the case, here, that a series of unfortunate circumstances led to the pile-up."

The highway was closed until further notice.

Author: Gregg Benzow, Richard Connor (dpa, dapd, ap)
Editor: Nicole Goebel