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Power lines, trees and structures feel wind’s force

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A tree on West Hobbs Street lies on the roof of a mobile home Wednesday after having been uprooted by the wind. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)
Metal debris was flying off the Sunwest Centre at 500 N. Main St. Between Fourth and Seventh streets. North Main Street was closed at 1:45 p.m. between Fourth and Seventh streets on Wednesday and will remain closed until the potential hazard and severe wind subsides, according to Todd Wildermuth, the city’s public information officer. (Alison Penn Photo)
An 18-wheeler lays on its side on a median near mile marker 98 on U.S. 285 southbound late Wednesday afternoon. The call about the accident the truck falling on its side came in at about 4 p.m. No word on the condition of the driver.  (Alex Ross Photo)

High winds cause numerous difficulties in city

Thick blankets of brown covered parts of Roswell Wednesday as gusting winds forced dirt and debris through undeveloped areas and across streets, and caused numerous road and business closures, the temporary discontinuation of air flights, power outages, fallen trees and some structure damage.

“We have had multiple accidents due to wind and dirt,” city of Roswell Public Safety Director Mike Mathews said. “To my knowledge, no serious injuries. …We do have reports of damage to roofs. We will be conducting a survey of all city buildings and property first thing tomorrow to better determine extent of damage.”

The National Weather Service reported sustained winds in the Roswell area as high as 51 miles an hour, with gusts up to 64 miles an hour. The Weather Service predicted that the winds would dissipate in the region after 9 p.m., with no further weather hazards expected for the remainder of the week.

Starting early Wednesday morning, the winds began knocking down trees and large limbs. After a tree fell into the street, the city of Roswell closed a portion of North Richardson Avenue between Eighth and Ninth Streets. Later in the day as the wind picked up, the city also closed parts of North Main Street near the New Mexico Military Institute as tree limbs were being cut and removed from trees along the road.

For a few hours Wednesday afternoon, the Roswell Police Department also closed North Main Street between Seventh and Fourth streets to protect against the possibility of falling debris from the exterior of a downtown building.

Both northwestern and southwestern portions of the Roswell Relief Route were also closed starting in the early afternoon, as New Mexico Department of Transportation crews reported “winds, dust and zero visibility.”  

Numerous power outages were reported throughout the area, with some poles and lines downed and some traffic signals not functioning at all or flashing red only along major streets during the day. According to the Xcel Energy website, there were as many as eight power outages at one time in the Roswell area affecting more than 360 business and residential customers.

In the Texas and New Mexico region affected by the high winds, Xcel reported more than 850 locations where power restoration services were underway, with about 40,000 customers affected. In an email, the company said that it could not predict when power would be restored.

The wind also damaged a roof at Sierra Middle School, but district and school officials chose not to provide additional information about the situation. 

At the Roswell International Air Center, air service was discontinued for the afternoon, according to Air Center Director Scott Stark.

“I sure haven’t seen airplanes here,” he said. “We’ve been working all day to make sure that things were tied down and that nothing was going to get damaged.”

While the fabric exterior of a hangar owned by Sceye Inc. was tattered and some air center roofs were thought to have some damage, Stark said that no other significant repercussions were thought to have occurred to hangars, aircraft or buildings at the air center.

American Airlines did not respond to an email requesting information specifically about the wind’s affect on service (although it did say that Roswell will not be affected by the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to ground Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for the time being). But the airline’s website indicated that two scheduled afternoon flights from Dallas and Phoenix were canceled. Flights earlier and later in the day were shown as continuing as previously scheduled. AV Flight, the fixed air base operator for charter flights, also said that no flights were taking off or coming in to Roswell Wednesday.

The winds also led to some city department closures. The landfill, as usual on windy days, was closed, according to city spokesman Todd Wildermuth, and South Park Cemetery closed as a precaution to avoid trees or limbs falling on people. The Roswell Museum and Art Center and the Roswell Public Library also shut down due to power outages.

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell closed its campus at 3 p.m. College Development Director Donna Oracion indicated that a power line and a light pole had fallen Wednesday and that the decision was made to cancel afternoon and evening classes, activities and events as a precaution.

For more photos of damage in Roswell caused by the wind, see pages A6 and A8 in today’s edition.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.