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Illinois semitruck crash causes "multiple fatalities"

A semitruck carrying anhydrous ammonia overturned in Illinois in a multi-vehicle crash that caused "multiple fatalities," Illinois State Police confirmed to CBS News on Saturday. 

The accident, which involved "multiple" vehicles, happened about a half-mile east of Teutopolis, Illinois, on U.S. Highway 40 on Friday at about 9:25 p.m. local time, police said in a statement reviewed by CBS News. The impact of the accident caused the truck to begin leaking, prompting a partial evacuation of area residents, police said.

An official from the Illinois State Police called the accident "very serious" and described the situation as "fluid" during a news conference held on Saturday morning

In the news conference, Effingham County Sheriff Paul Kuhns said that there was a "large plume" from the ammonia leak. Because the leak caused "terribly dangerous air conditions in the northeast area of Teutopolis," an evacuation was ordered within an approximate one-mile radius of the crash, Kuhns said. 

Police said in a statement that there "are multiple fatalities" related to the crash. The number of deaths was not immediately disclosed in the statement or in the morning news conference. During the news conference, officials declined to comment on what caused the deaths. Teutopolis fire chief Tim McMahon did confirm that five people were airlifted and one person transported by ground to area hospitals. It's not clear what their condition was or why they were transported. 

The air conditions meant emergency responders had to "wait" and "mitigate the conditions" before they could "get actual access" to the crash site, Kuhns said. Kuhns said the crash site covered a "fairly large area." 

The highway between Teutopolis and Montrose is closed. Crews were working to contain the leak, and cleanup was ongoing as of 9:15 a.m. local time Saturday.

"We have a lot of brave firemen, EMT, hazmat specialists, police officers that are working on the scene as we speak," said Kuhns.   

Inhalation of anhydrous ammonia, which is toxic, can be fatal at high concentrations. The ammonia can also burn the skin and eyes, and cause severe respiratory injuries.  In the news conference, one official called the substance "terrible." 

Teutopolis is a town of just over 1,600 people about 92 miles southeast of Springfield, Illinois, the state's capital. 

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Kerry Breen
Kerry Breen

Kerry Breen is a news editor and reporter for CBS News. Her reporting focuses on current events, breaking news and substance use.

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