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High wind raises havoc

The wind gusts of up to 53 mph that whipped through the Las Vegas Valley on Thursday grounded police helicopters, sent people scrambling for cover and knocked over scaffolding at a work site, injuring two construction workers, one critically.

The workers were part of a three-man crew stationed on 30-foot-tall scaffolding atop the 24-story Newport Lofts project on Hoover Avenue near Charleston Boulevard and 3rd Street about 10 a.m. when a 30- to 40-mph gust of wind hit, said Tim Szymanski of the Las Vegas Fire Department.

The gust “just pushed the unit over. … It was a huge gust,” Szymanski said.

Two of the workers were secured to the scaffolding and rode it down to the roof of the high rise, Szymanski said. One of those men suffered minor injuries, and the other suffered no injuries.

The third worker had detached his safety device, apparently when the scaffolding started to blow over, Szymanski said. That worker, Juvencio Lopez, suffered critical neck and back injuries, officials said.

Lopez remained at University Medical Center on Thursday night, and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.

Workers at Newport Lofts said that just before the scaffold collapse, word had been passed that work at the construction site was being stopped because of the wind.

Forest Humphrey, a plaster worker who was on the ground level of the building when the scaffolding blew over, said weather-related accidents “can’t be helped,” but that didn’t make workers at the site any less concerned about their injured colleagues.

“How are they doing? Not well,” he said.

Newport Lofts is a Cherry Development project, and company owner Sam Cherry issued a statement saying that the company was cooperating with the investigation and that “our hearts and prayers go out to” the families and friends of the injured workers.

No other injuries were reported on Thursday because of the strong winds or cold weather. An OSHA official said the agency hadn’t received any other reports of weather-related accidents at construction sites. Any sites that posed a danger because of the winds would be closed down on a case-by-case basis if necessary, according to the agency.

Work was halted at the Hoover Dam bypass project Thursday because of rain, but the wind didn’t affect the site, said Dave Zanatell, the Federal Highway Administration engineer overseeing the project. In mid-September, high wind felled two pairs of 280-foot-tall steel crane towers at the site.

John Adair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, said the highest gust of wind recorded in the valley Thursday was 53 mph. That blast buffeted the North Las Vegas Airport about noon, he said.

Las Vegas police fly their helicopters out of that airport, and the wind kept the department grounded for parts of the day.

McCarran International Airport and Nellis Air Force Base both recorded gusts of up to 46 mph, Adair said.

The wind was part of a low-pressure system and cold front that swept into the valley from the Rockies, bringing unseasonably chilly weather, said John Newhard, a meteorologist for accuweather.com.

Las Vegas’ average high temperature for April 12 is 77 degrees, but Thursday’s high was 63 and felt much colder because of the wind.

Scattered rain showers fell throughout the valley on Thursday and combined with blowing dust to create “mud showers,” said Brian Fuis, a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

“It’s been kind of an odd spring,” Fuis said.

The weather today is expected to be much milder, with high temperatures in the mid-70s and winds between 10 and 20 mph. Saturday is expected to be sunny with highs in the lower 80s and winds of 8 to 16 mph.

Clark County air quality officials anticipated that strong winds would continue today, prompting them to issue an advisory through this afternoon for dust.

They sent notices to construction sites Thursday instructing builders to take measures to control how much dust is kicked up.

Airborne dust, when inhaled, can aggravate the respiratory system. Children, the elderly and people with bronchitis and asthma are particularly sensitive to dust pollution.

The advisory asks residents to drive slowly on unpaved roads, avoid taking short cuts across vacant lots and ride off-road vehicles outside the valley’s urban area.

Review-Journal writers Keith Rogers and Francis McCabe contributed to this story.

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