ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For the past two nights, thunderstorms have forced Balloon Fiesta officials to issue shelter-in-place orders. Guests who were at the park Friday night said, by the time they got the notice, it was too late; they got soaked during the chaos.
The seek shelter alert sent thousands of people running for cover. Some explained that it created a hectic and potentially dangerous situation.
“We’re used to this weather during Balloon Fiesta; you just kind of plan on it. You’ve got to come prepared,” said Yeret Lopez, a Balloon Fiesta Park visitor.
Last night started on a great note. Pilots on the field inflating their balloons for spectators to enjoy. Then, the rain came pouring down out of nowhere.
“We didn’t see the weather coming until the balloons started to just deflate. All of a sudden, it just felt like it was out of nowhere,” Melina King, an attendee.
Moments after the rain began, a message over the intercom asked everyone to find shelter. The rain drenched some of the pilots, their balloons and the guests.
“To help facilitate the shelter-in-place, Balloon Fiesta provided access to onsite shelters; meaning the Sid Cutter Pavilion, event center, public safety center, the event tents, and made buses available for guests to take shelter,” said a Spokesperson for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Tom Garrity.
Despite the torrential downpour, the scheduled fireworks went on as planned. However, that sparked confusion.
“Everybody kind of panicked because we were like ‘what is that?’ We didn’t know what that sound was,” said King.
While others decided to sit back, relax and watch the fireworks.
“We couldn’t really emergency evacuate thousands of people anyways, so we might as well enjoy the fireworks,” said Michael Loveless, a Balloon Glow visitor.
The balloons on the field were drenched and trampled by guests who were running for cover. Rainwater weighs down the balloon envelope. In order to successfully inflate them, they have to be dry. That’s why the City provided a place for all of the pilots to do just that.
“We instructed every city facility to open up, and UNM, Rio Rancho, a lot of others are helping out too,” said Mayor Tim Keller.
Balloons were stretched out on the floor at the Albuquerque Railyards and other locations while pilots used their industrial fans to begin the drying process. They hoped the envelopes would be dry in time for Saturday night’s glow, but that event was also canceled because of another incoming storm.
The buses being used for the shelter-in-place were later used to get guests back to their Park and Ride locations around the city. According to Garrity, their safety team also helped reunite families who got separated during the storm.
Saturday night’s shelter-in-place order was issued before the storm, and no balloons were inflated at the time. The glow was canceled a short time after.