The drought and the Highway 58 pileup


The last significant drought California endured was the one from 1986-1992. In 1991, California agriculture lost more than $1 billion. The scary aspects to severe droughts, of course, are environmental calamities: wild fires, floods if the rains finally come too fast, and dust storms. Dust storms, caused by parched land being whipped by high winds, occur rapidly and with little or no warning. That’s what happened in Bakersfield on February 27, 1991, when a storm formed during the mid-morning and moved right over Highway 58, instantly bringing visibility to zero. A chain-reaction wreck would involve 54 cars and trucks; there would be two other wrecks in the area involving 16 more vehicles. Thirty eight people were injured, eight seriously or critically, but nobody was killed. I shot this overview from an over-crossing as I approached the scene, just west of Mt. Vernon Avenue. I then parked my Californian car on a side road and walked to the crash site, not even attempting to get onto the highway and drive to it. The CHP was always real good about allowing news media to drive past road blocks and up to accident scenes, but I took one look at this mess and figured it would be easier to just walk in. The picture of CHP officer Jeff Crosswhite tending to one of the injured would be transmitted around the country via Associated Press, along with the overview, and would be a cover for The California Highway Patrolman Magazine.pileupweb

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