Nearly a dozen people are dead after a tour bus and big rig collided on westbound Interstate 10 near Palm Springs on Sunday morning.
At least 30 bus passengers have been taken to Palm Springs area hospitals for injuries ranging from minor to major, according to hospital officials.
All westbound lanes of I-10 are closed at Indian Canyon following the crash that was first reported just after 5 a.m., and traffic is being diverted off I-10 at Indian Canyon. CHP officials estimate the freeway could be closed until 4 p.m.
Throughout the morning, firefighters struggled to reach victims. The bus had crashed into the big rig's trailer, and a tow truck was used to lift the trailer and help officials gain easier access to the demolished vehicle. Another tow truck tried to pull the big rig forward, off the bus. Firefighters positioned ladders in the bus' windows to pull victims out.
Around 7:30 a.m., California Highway Patrol officer Stephanie Hamilton said seven people were confirmed dead. By 9:30 a.m., the death toll had risen to 11, all of whom were traveling in the tour bus. The big rig driver was unhurt.
Patients were taken to all three Coachella Valley hospitals — Desert Regional Medical Center, Eisenhower Medical Center and JFK Memorial Hospital, Desert Regional director of marketing Rich Ramhoff said.
The Palm Springs hospital, which has the valley's only trauma center, was treating 14 patients Sunday morning. Five were in critical condition, three in serious condition, and six had minor injuries, Ramhoff said. All the patients were adults.
Ramhoff said that in his six years at the hospital, this was the largest number of victims he'd seen from a single incident.
Eisenhower Medical Center spokesperson Lee Rice said the Rancho Mirage hospital received 11 adult patients, all with minor injuries.
JFK Medical Center received five patients, all of whom suffered minor injuries, according to chief development officer Linda Evans.
The tour bus belonged to USA Holiday, a Los Angeles-based tour company, and Hamilton said the driver was identified as one of its owners. The bus was carrying about 30 people and may have been coming from Red Earth Casino, near the Salton Sea, CHP said.
USA Holiday regularly carries passengers from the Los Angeles area to Southern California casinos. According to its Facebook page, USA Holiday has recently made trips to Tortoise Rock Casino, Red Earth Casino and Los Vegas, but the company hasn't promoted any trips on the page since mid-September.
As the hours passed, firefighters continued to work outside the mangled bus as passersby pulled over in the eastbound lanes to catch a glimpse of the grisly scene before being ordered to leave by officials.
As of 9:30 a.m., only one ambulance remained at the scene.
Chris and Rachel Williams were delivering frozen chicken to Los Angeles when they got stuck in traffic. They were about five vehicles east of the scene and waited more than an hour at the scene.
"We're doing good. We're just saying our prayers for the people involved in this situation," Chris Williams said. "This is a day that will be remembered."
Check The Desert Sun regularly for updates as this story continues to unfold.