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Aftermath: Friday storms felled trees, power lines

Frank Lovato, left, and Tomas Gutierrez look at a large tree branch that’s barely hanging on at the San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town. This tree, like many others in Albuquerque, was ripped apart during a Friday night storm. (Marla Brose/Journal)
Frank Lovato, left, and Tomas Gutierrez look at a large tree branch that’s barely hanging on at the San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town. This tree, like many others in Albuquerque, was ripped apart during a Friday night storm. (Marla Brose/Journal)
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Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry called the storm that pummeled the city and other central parts of the state on Friday night a “Category 1 hurricane,” while police and firefighters assessed the damage and residents cleaned up.

Some 6,303 customers were still without power as of 10:30 p.m. Saturday, down from more than 30,000 at the peak of the storm. That number includes 465 in Valencia County, 252 in Sandoval County and 112 in the East Mountains. The rest were in Bernalillo County.

PNM officials said it’s not possible to predict when those customers will again have power and some could be without electricity through the weekend.

“Some customers may be out for quite some time due to the severity of the damage caused by the microburst, unfortunately. We know it is frustrating. We will try to keep you posted,” PNM posted on its Facebook page.

The thunderstorm rolled into Albuquerque around 7 p.m. Friday, dumping more than an inch of rain at the airport. In total, 1.36 inches of rain fell there by the end of the day – breaking the old record of 0.85 of an inch set in 1939. The nighttime storm also blew a gust of 89 mph at the Sunport – the strongest gust recorded there since 1939; it toppled trees, trimmed tree limbs, flooded roadways and other areas and shut a portion of Interstate 25 because of fallen power lines.

Conditions are expected to improve today, with a forecast of mostly sunny skies and a high of 89 degrees in the Albuquerque area, according to the National Weather Service.

Berry and Police Chief Ray Schultz patrolled the city until 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, the mayor said, surveying damage and assessing what the costs could be. Berry said that the early Friday morning storm, which hurled huge thunderclaps and brilliant flashes of lightning all over the city, cost $500,000. That doesn’t even include the Friday night storm, which appears to have been more damaging.

The city’s Senior Affairs division is doing welfare checks around the city, Berry said, but he asked residents to look out for one another, knock on doors and make sure neighbors are fine.

“Check on them,” Berry said. “Make sure they’re doing OK.”

One such neighborhood near Old Town gathered early Saturday morning to look at a massive cottonwood tree that split down the middle and fell on top of a car near 13th Street and Orchard Place. Jennifer Hix, a resident of that neighborhood since 1997, said the storm was the biggest she had ever seen.

“I’m thankful for the rain,” she said from her front patio while looking at her dented and smashed car. “I just wish it would have come in smaller doses.”

Cleaning up that particular tree proved especially difficult as a bee hive was discovered just as firefighters were cutting it into pieces. The firefighters decided to hold off on removing the tree until a beekeeper could deal with the hive.

“The bees’ house was being cut in half, so what do you expect?” Hix said of the firefighters who were seen running down the street to escape the angry bees.

On Saturday, dozens of traffic signals in Albuquerque were out of power. Drivers should treat those intersections as a four-way stop.

Elsewhere in Albuquerque, Bridge between Fourth and Eighth streets was closed as crews repaired damage, and two city pools – Rio Grande and Highland – were closed.

The Rio Grande Zoo saw no injuries to animals or humans during the storm, which caused the abrupt cancellation of a Friday night concert.

A video taken by a performer at the concert showed attendees scrambling to find cover amid blowing tarps and umbrellas. Huge branches fell from tall trees and concertgoers could be seen abandoning their property to seek shelter.

The zoo will reopen today, but was closed Saturday. Concertgoers who abandoned personal property can describe their lost items to zoo staff in order to retrieve them, Berry said.

An emergency radio communications tower struck by lightning early Friday morning was not at “100 percent,” the police chief said, but officers have been doubling up, using cellphones and other backup methods to prevent any impact to emergency response. The tower is expected to be fixed in the next 24 hours.

Areas north of Albuquerque from Alameda Boulevard to where Corrales Road meets Pat D’Arco Highway saw more than 2 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. South Albuquerque between Bridge and Rio Bravo also got that amount.

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro appears to have been the hardest hit by the storm, with most of the refuge receiving at least 2.5 inches and a large portion getting upwards of 3 inches.

Also slammed was the southeast corner of Sandoval County, which has received at least 3 inches in the last two days. Most of Valencia County collected 0.75 of an inch, with some areas getting 2 inches.

Some residents of Bernalillo woke up Saturday morning to see that their flooding problems hadn’t gone away. After a day’s work trying to pump away 14 inches of water that collected around Samuel Kovac’s house, Kovac was disappointed to see that Friday’s rains had brought water levels about back to where they were.

“It’s a big inconvenience,” Kovac told the Journal. “I haven’t been able to go to work for two days.”

Kovac is the only employed member of his household, he said, and he’s caring for his young son and daughter. By Saturday evening, Kovac was almost able to get his car out of the muck.

He and his wife planned to spend the evening in Taos.

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