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City services return to normal after windstorm

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City and county declare ‘state of disaster’

For the most part, Roswell residents and businesses went about their normal routines Thursday.

A day after a 12-hour, sometimes ferocious windstorm disrupted businesses, closed streets and highways, brought down trees, damaged structures and resulted in numerous power outages, city offices and local businesses were open, streets were cleared and mangled tree limbs were removed from city roads and properties.

But beyond the surface are some known significant losses to the city and its residents and businesses.

Chaves County and city of Roswell elected officials have signed emergency proclamations to forward to the New Mexico Governor’s office seeking state reimbursements or assistance, not only for Roswell’s storm but for the tornadoes that affected the Hagerman, Dexter and Lake Arthur areas Tuesday.

If financial damages reach a certain monetary amount throughout the state, the region could receive federal assistance as well, emergency management staff told city officials.

Will Cavin, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners and the person who signed the county’s resolution until the full board can meet next week, said that the county is waiting for damage reports to come in.

“At this stage, we just need to make sure that we are getting the citizens of Chaves County taken care of,” Cavin said. “There are a lot of issues ahead of us in dealing with these 48 hours of natural disasters.”

One Roswell business, Sceye Inc., already knows it has experienced multimillion-dollar losses and is determining now how best to recover years of effort to develop cutting-edge technology.

“This just happened. It was traumatic,” said Dr. David Kim about the company’s custom-made hangar at the Roswell International Air Center and its airship that were destroyed by the winds, which gusted up to 64 miles an hour at times, according to the National Weather Service.

A venture partly run by the public health company Vestergaard, Sceye has developed a helium-filled, lighter-than-air dirigible that can stay in the stratosphere to monitor activities for environmental, agricultural or public health purposes, including preventing human trafficking.

Kim said the company was ready to do a final test of its airship, which he said had performed well in previous flights. The windstorm knocked over Sceye’s specially designed hangar — even though it had been designed to withstand gales and gusts — tore the hangar’s fabric and ruined the airship, he said.

He said he and his team are doing a damage assessment and then will talk with corporate officers and investors about how to proceed. He knows he wants to keep his team and their years of experience together, and he hopes that they will be able to stay in Roswell.

“We have a very strong desire to fly again,” he said, “and our hope is to do that in Roswell, but we will have to determine the best way to proceed.”

The city of Roswell reported that all of its offices and units were open again Wednesday after power outages and winds caused the closures of the library, the art museum, City Hall and the departments located in it, the cemetery and the landfill during portions or all of Wednesday. The water department opened a few hours late Thursday to catch up on transactions that they were not able to do Wednesday, city spokesman Todd Wildermuth said.

“All city services are up and operating,” said Deputy City Manager Mike Mathews on Thursday afternoon. “All emergency services have been very busy over the last 48 hours but have provided excellent service to our citizens during this event.”

Mathews said that there still does not appear to have been any significant injuries related to the windstorm, although several vehicle accidents were reported in the Roswell area and some roofs and structures were damaged.

The city has announced that it will close North Main Street between Fourth and Sixth streets today starting at 7 a.m. and lasting through 6 p.m. to allow for the removal of exterior metal from a downtown building at 500 N. Main St.

“Sunwest Centre has some metal coverings that had blown off (the) building,” Mathews said, “and it is my understanding that all loose or damaged pieces will be removed tomorrow morning.”

Xcel Energy also was reporting on its website that it was dealing with outages Thursday night affecting more than 700 customers in Chaves County. At one point Wednesday, the company estimated that 136,000 customers in Texas and New Mexico had experienced power losses. But only 16,850 customers still lacked power by about 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

“This has been the worst storm to impact our system in years,” an Xcel email update read. “We are still assessing damage and anticipate that a full restoration could take several days.”

Karen Sanders, director of the Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Management Office, told Roswell city councilors that a state team is expected early next week to investigate damages in the area.

A city staff member told councilors that a “rough estimate” is that the city alone has experienced $260,000 in damages to fencing, debris and roofs.

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