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The Nation

Wind Blows Glitter Off the Gulch

April 16, 2002|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — Winds gusting up to 90 mph swept blinding dust across the city Monday, closing the airport and cloaking the Strip with near-zero visibility.

The winds caused tall office buildings to sway; resort casinos closed pools and outdoor attractions as tree limbs whipped violently.

"These are the strongest winds I've seen in years," said forecaster Don Maker of the National Weather Service here.

Gusts outside his office were clocked at 69 mph, and a spokesman for the Stratosphere Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi, said winds at the top of it were measured at 90 mph. Similar gusts were reported along Interstate 15 approaching Las Vegas from the south.

The winds, which began Sunday evening and were expected to subside overnight, were caused by an unusually strong low-pressure system out of Alaska that was moving across the deserts of Southern California, northern Arizona and southern Nevada and Utah.

No serious injuries were reported, but fire and rescue personnel said several people were struck by airborne trash cans and other debris.

Local hospitals reported emergency rooms filled with patients complaining of asthma, eye irritation and ankle sprains from being knocked down by gusts. Air quality authorities issued a warning at noon for people to remain indoors because of windblown dust.

At nearby Lake Mead, seven occupants of a houseboat were treated for hypothermia after it was swamped in high waves, according to the Clark County Fire Department.

Throughout town, billboards were ripped apart and trees were uprooted, taking power lines down with them.

"We're running short [of available firetrucks] all over the valley," said Tim Szymanski, spokesman for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Services Department. "Everybody's out working right now, crisscrossing the valley."

Nevada Power Co. said outages affected 85,000 customers.

Air traffic was halted at McCarran International Airport at 1:15 p.m. due to limited visibility, but operations returned to normal later in the afternoon.

The dry, cold front was expected to reduce temperatures here from the mid-90s to the mid-70s today.

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