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Winds above 100 mph recorded during historic storm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Winds reaching 100 mph toppled at least 10 vehicles off roadways as a historic storm system passed through New Mexico Wednesday.

Most of the vehicles were semi-trucks, New Mexico State Police spokesman officer Ray Wilson said.

Wilson said State Police worked 39 crashes in a 24-hour period during which a wind gust of 104 mph was recorded in San Augustin Pass near White Sands Missile Range and gusts of 79 mph were recorded in Clines Corners and Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis. Winds reached at least 111 mph in a tornado.

Injuries were reported in nine of the crashes, Wilson said. He said he had not been notified if any were serious.

Wilson said he wasn’t sure if all of the crashes were weather-related, “but it’s safe to say the blow-overs were due to the wind.”

Most of the blow-overs were in the northern and eastern parts of the state, where some of the strongest winds occurred.

Four of the blow-overs occurred in Mora County, where State Police closed a portion of northbound Interstate 25.

A fifth-wheel recreational vehicle and two semis were overturned between mile markers 334 and 400. The fourth, a U-Haul, overturned on U.S. 85.

Two semis overturned in Guadalupe County. Semis also overturned in Cibola, Chaves, Colfax and Eddy counties.

State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management employees Sara Gerlitz and Matthew Smith came upon one of the overturned semis on U.S. 285 about 14 miles south of Vaughn while on the way to do an assessment of Tuesday’s tornado damage in Chaves County.

“We must have come up on it about 30 seconds after it happened,” Smith said.

They cut the driver out of the cab by popping the windshield and waited with him for State Police to arrive. Gerlitz posted photos of the truck on Twitter.

“We made sure he was fine,” Smith said after they got him out.

Wilson said it was possible more weather-related crashes were handled by local law enforcement.

While State Police officers were busy working crashes caused by the high winds, PNM and other utilities were dealing with power outages and emergency management officials were involved in tornado recovery efforts.

PNM spokesperson Meaghan Cavanaugh said 5,000 customers were without power during the height of the winds Wednesday but said fewer than 80 were still without power at midday Thursday. The utility expected to restore power completely by early evening.

Most of the outages were in the Las Vegas, N.M. area, but Cavanaugh said outages were spread throughout PNM’s coverage area.

The National Weather Service has classified Tuesday’s Dexter-Hagerman tornado as an EF2 twister (wind speeds between 111 to 135 mph). The weather service said it was the first EF2 tornado to hit the state since 2012. It was on the ground for about 15 minutes with a path 15 miles long, according to the weather service survey.

It was the earliest recorded EF1 (86 to 110 mph) or greater tornado in the history of the state. The tornado was the first documented March tornado in Chaves County since 1959.

The weather service said six people suffered minor injuries from the tornado. National Weather Service meteorologist Chuck Jones said, “Six homes were mostly destroyed.”

About a dozen homes were partially damaged.