At least 13 people were killed in southern California on Tuesday when a semi-trailer crashed into an SUV carrying 25 passengers, officials said.

The accident happened early in the morning in the dusty farming community of Holtville, near the US-Mexico border.

Those killed, including the driver of the SUV, were between 15 and 53 years old, and minors as young as 16 were injured, said Omar Watson, head of the road patrol border division. He said the driver was 22 years old.

Watson said several of the occupants were thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene; others died inside the SUV, a Ford Expedition designed to hold five to eight people.

Hospital officials previously said 27 people were in the SUV and 15 died, but Watson said there were 25 passengers and 13 dead.

Seven victims were taken to the El Centro regional medical center and three were airlifted to other hospitals in the area. One person died in the hospital, Cruz said.

“Unfortunately, consular staff have confirmed the deaths of 10 Mexicans so far,” Roberto Velasco, director of the Department of Foreign Affairs for North America, said in a tweet.

Jake Sanchez, a California highway patrol officer, said the crash happened around 6 a.m. PT. The semi-trailer struck the left side of the SUV, creasing its exterior and pushing it off the road.

Crosses are seen near the scene of an accident between an SUV and a semi-trailer.
Crosses are seen near the scene of an accident between an SUV and a semi-trailer. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon / AFP / Getty Images

Agriculture is the engine of the economy around Holtville and El Centro. Known as the Imperial Valley, the region is a major producer of fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock despite being a desert, thanks to irrigation from the Colorado River and a long growing season.

On Tuesday afternoon, hand-made wooden crosses stretched in a line over a patch of dry grass and dirt next to the freeway, and a seat covered in what appeared to be blood lay near the SUV , while the desolate highway remained closed.

The white cab of the semi-trailer was still crushed on the wrecked side of the brown SUV. The entire driver’s side of the smaller vehicle collapsed and the passenger side was opened wide.

Several of the victims were taken to the regional medical center in El Centro, Judy Cruz, the hospital’s emergency manager, said during a press briefing posted on Facebook.

It was not immediately clear how fast the vehicles were traveling, or whether the SUV observed a stop sign before heading towards the intersection of State Road 115 and Norrish Road just outside Holtville, about 10 miles north of the border, says the California Highway Patrol.

In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said it would investigate the crash in conjunction with the California Highway Patrol. The investigator in charge of the agency was due to arrive on Wednesday, the NTSB said.