Three people were killed in a 19-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 near Picacho Peak on Tuesday after a swift moving dust storm passed through the area, authorities said.

The chain-reaction crash north of Tucson involved up to seven tractor-trailer rigs, and the rest were passenger vehicles, said Bart Graves, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

The interstate was shut down for hours.

The pileup was reminiscent of a crash along the same stretch of highway in October 2011 that killed one man and injured 15.

In Tuesday’s pileup, “there were crunched vehicles between semis, and you can’t tell they were vehicles,” Graves said.

“Vehicles rolled onto the side of the highway following the impact of the crash,” he said.

The pileup occurred at 12:30 p.m. when a dust storm moved in. It subsided about 15 minutes later, said Graves.

“Winds were at 29 mph, and there was zero visibility,” Graves said.

Dozens of DPS officers were called to the crash site and closed the interstate’s westbound and eastbound lanes in order to get officers and medical crews to the scene.

Three helicopters took patients to the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, and Phoenix’s St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.

At least 12 were injured, according to The Associated Press. Graves could not confirm how many were injured. He did say the injuries ranged from serious to critical.

One of the dead was identified as Gordon Lee Smith, 76, of Mead, Wash., Graves said. He said the identities and hometowns of the other two may be released today.

“We are trying to piece together the actual chain of events that caused this crash,” said Graves.

The interstate had up to six miles of backed-up traffic through the afternoon into Tuesday night as DPS officers investigated the pileup.

The Picacho Peak area is prone to dust storms that develop suddenly and can quickly reduce visibility to zero for drivers.

The area has farms and ranches, and agriculture is a factor in dust pollution.

The National Weather Service had issued a blowing-dust advisory shortly before the pileup, with wind gusts of up to 30 mph reported in the area.

DPS officials recommend that motorists caught in dust storms slow down, exit the highway at the nearest off-ramp and get as far away from the road as possible.

Motorists should turn off their vehicles’ lights and remain in the vehicle with seat belts fastened.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104.