Storm Forces Closure of I-84; Traffic Comes to a Standstill - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

  • The Weather Authority Alert

Storm Forces Closure of I-84; Traffic Comes to a Standstill

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Umatilla County --  Traffic on I-84 between Hermiston and Pendleton came to a standstill Friday morning, as high winds, which swept a wide swath of Umatilla and Walla Walla Counties, turned over trucks, uprooted trees, and formed a massive dust cloud over part of the region.

Thousands of drivers who were headed to and from Pendleton on I-84 were forced to leave the freeway.

Tom Helecki, from Richland, had been traveling to Pendleton with close to 100 pounds of game when he instead found himself at the Echo Road exit about 22 minutes out of the city.  He had waited a long time for the trip, hoping for good weather.  He said the warmer temperatures gave him a positive first,

"It's kind of mess. I put off the trip down here for about 30-40 days, and I decided today was the day to travel because the temperatures came up, and lo and behold, we've got a major dust storm coming through."

Pablo Guzman had a sense of humor, but some concern about his trip to Wisconsin.  He and two others were also stuck in traffic at the Echo Road exit.  He commented on the weather up North, explaining that he was used to snow and sleet, but the winds here came as a surprise.

 "We're from Green Bay. (sic) I never had problems with the weather. I never thought it'd be this kind of trouble up here."

It was in 1999 that a dust storm between Umatilla and Pendleton set off a chain reaction of crashes, involving 40 vehicles.  Eight people were killed; and twenty were hurt.

Today, the Department of Transportation was taking no chances.