ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The Duke City turned into a ghost town Thursday evening after non-stop wind gusts left extensive damage through the metro area.
Toppled trees blocked traffic on Carlisle near Nob Hill, while downed power lines sparked outages in the Northeast Heights and the North Valley.
As of 9 p.m. there were still at least 3,000 customers in the metro area without power with PNM reporting it had responded to more than 100 power outages affecting more than 16,000 customers.
Roofs were also ripped apart at a parking lot near the Sunport, the Catholic Center on Coors and Valencia High School in Los Lunas. Students there were let out early after the metal awning looked like it was giving way.
It seem that everywhere the wind was felling trees or dropping limbs onto power lines, which snapped to the ground showering sparks.
"I heard something crack, and I heard my wife say, 'Baby, the yard is on fire,'" said resident George Lee.
Lee heard a large tree branch, toppled by the wind, crash through power lines and into his yard near the fairgrounds, starting a small grass fire. Near Rio Grande and Central, part of a BMW's window was also crushed under a branch.
Holiday shopping also came to a standstill as Albuquerque's Uptown and Old Town were nearly deserted.
"It's nuts," said shopper Andrea Ponce. "I couldn't even open the door at Williams Sonoma. I had to use my full body for it."
Shoppers said they were running from store to store to stay warm. But people weren't the only ones taking extra caution.
Old Town's 55-foot Christmas tree also needed some extra reinforcement to make sure it stands the test of this storm.
"We've never had to do that before but we've never had east winds," said Plaza del Luis owner Henry Aceves.
In Nob Hill, the city shut down blocks along Central Ave. for its annual Shop and Stroll. But it seems most people decided to stay home.
"We thought there'd be more people and usually it's really fun," said shopper Ben Pearce.
But usually-crowded sidewalks were empty and not a single passenger was aboard Albuquerque's trolley.
The Sunport experienced 69-mph gusts, but airport officials said there were no weather-related delays.
The peak gust reported in the city reached 88 mph early in the afternoon at the base of Sandia Tram.
Fierce winds are lived up to the forecast Thursday toppling trees, knocking out power and generally raising havoc across much of New Mexico.
Gusts at the base of the Sandia Tram in northeast Albuquerque hit 75 mph early in the afternoon before peaking at 88 mph. Numerous locations topped 50 and 60 mph with some reaching 70 mph.
Early in the evening gusts of 66 and 67 mph were recorded at the National Weather Service forecast office and the adjacent Albuquerque Sunport.
At about the same time a canopy at On Time Airport Parking on Yale SE at Gibson collapsed onto the cars beneath it. There were no reports of injuries.
Meanwhile police, firefighters and PNM crews chased continuing reports of downed trees falling on power lines and houses.
Power outages were reported across the city, some minor, others major.
One significant outage hit more 1,500 customers in an area of the Northeast Heights bounded by Arroyo de Vista, Comanche, Sunset Gardens and Juan Tabo. PNM estimated service would be restored by 8 p.m.
An earlier outage knocked more than 5,000 customers offline for more than 90 minutes.
(Online interactive map: PNM Power Outages with current status, estimated repair.)
Dangerous travel conditions
Late in the afternoon the New Mexico Department of Transportation reported:
- Zero visibility from dust blowing across Interstate 25 near the U.S. Highway 60 interchange south of Belen.
- A tractor-trailer rig blown over on U.S. 64/87 east of Raton.
- U.S. 64/87 is wet with blowing mist. Black ice likely as temperatures drop.
- Wet pavement beginning to ice over on Intersate 40 from Tucumcari to the Texas state line.
- Winds dangerous for high-profile vehicles on I-40 over the Continetal Divide in western New Mexico.
The National Weather Service also issued wind-related travel warnings especially for high-profile vehicles and is forecasting trouble through the weekend and frigid temperatures and heavy snow replace the angry wind.
The weather service also reported wind-related damage in Grants, south of Albuquerque in Tome-Adelino and Veguita and at several location in metro Albuquerque.
In southeast New Mexico freezing rain and freezing for are in the forecast with a warning issued for an area from Queen to Artesia and Lovington and south and east into Texas from 8 p.m. through 8 a.m. Friday.
(Online: KRQE.com Severe Weather alerts and resources.)
Albuquerque area damage
The unrelenting wind is responsible for a lot of damage around metro Albuquerque as tree after tree fell victim to strong winds and higher gusts occasionally reaching hurricane speeds.
The highest wind speeds in the city were reported in the Northeast Heights especially along the Sandia foothills.
It wasn't hard to find trees that
were easily snapped by the force.
A home near Arizona and San Pedro NE had a large tree branch slam into the yard after a ferocious gust ended its life.
Neighbors said there was a loud crack when the tree went down and landed on a power line that fell into the neighboring yard.
That yard belongs to George Lee who said the live wire set the grass on fire in his backyard.
Lee got home just as it all was happening.
"I heard something crack," he said. "My wife said, 'Baby, the yard is on fire."
Lee put the grass fire out with the help of a hose and his neighbor's water bucket.
Lee said he didn't have any power at his home but is happy the tree limb didn't cause major damage to his home.
There is not one part of the metro area not affected by the wind.
From blowing dust on the roads to ripped-off roofs, it's left a huge mess behind in just a few hours with hours still to go.
As dawn came, it was still relatively calm, a few leaves blowing down the street.
Then the trees started rattling and then began to snap
Greg Maness was awakened to find a tree not in the upright position where he last saw it.
"What it sounded like when I woke up was a car wreck," Maness said. "I looked out and see the tree on my shed."
It also took out power line causing one of the many outages around the metro area and elsewhere.
Some people had not choice to work in the wind since it's part of their job.
At Mesa del Sol, the sprawling development south of the Albuquerque Sunport, there wasn't much to stop the dirt, so it moved through like a wall.
The water trucks did their best to keep it down, but it was a losing battle.
Out in Rio Rancho much of the same. Drivers had to slow down because of brownouts all over the city.
And a fair share of roofs that couldn't hold on. One of them was at the Catholic Center in Albuquerque.
While the roads were looking clearer Friday morning in the Albuquerque area, appearances can be deceiving
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