Dust devil rips off roof of school gym

Posted at: 05/22/2013 4:54 PM
Updated at: 05/23/2013 7:38 AM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Gene Schmidt / Los Alamos Monitor Online

The unbelievable strength a dust devil packed ripped the roof right off the gym of a Los Alamos school.

KOB Eyewitness News 4 got a firsthand look of the damage at Barranca Mesa Elementary School.

Wednesday afternoon, there was green tape blocking off the front doors of the building because it is closed for extreme repair.

Call it a dust devil or an unbelievably strong gust of wind, but those who were there at the time say they have never seen anything like it.

Dawn Marie Shipley was inside with all the other teachers when she says everything started shaking.

"Things started blowing off my walls," Shipley said.

"We started moving to doorways and stuff thinking it might have been an earthquake, then I looked out the front window and saw the wind just whipping around like crazy I said, get back in the gym," another teacher described.

The doors blew wide open, teachers said, and a hallway turned into one big wind tunnel of dirt.

In the front parking lot, it also shattered the glass on the rear windows of more than a half dozen cars.

And no more than 15 or 20 yards right across the street, a gigantic pine tree was completely uprooted.

"It looked like Wizard of Oz with the chunks floating around," Shipley said.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt says the roof came collapsing down in the area where the youngest students usually play.  But with how bad it looks, Schmidt said, he is thankful it was not any worse.

"Everybody's standing and what a relief that is because I'm thinking, everybody's okay, I'm thinking, the quantity of debris and everybody standing, it was a disconnect because you're thinking, how is that possible."

Experts with the National Weather Service checked the radar around 1:15 p.m., when the incident occurred, and said it appeared completely clear in that area.  The strongest wind gust registered around that time was about 40 miles per hour.

School is closed Thursday and Friday.