HWY 59 reopens in Merced County after high wind closure

MERCED COUNTY, Calif.

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Powerful wind and blowing dust forced the highway patrol and Caltrans to close a section of Highway 59 near El Nido Thursday morning, but not before multiple car crashes.

"About 9:30 this morning we were called out here for a traffic collision with an ambulance responding," said Officer Christian Lara. "Two units responded out here and encountered a dust storm as you can see behind me here. Zero visibility conditions. While they were on scene, a separate minor injury traffic collision occurred."

Officers then started re-routing traffic between Lincoln and El Nido roads to prevent more accidents.

"I've worked out of this office for four years, and this is the worst I've ever seen it," said Officer Lara. "It's definitely extreme conditions we're experiencing right now."

In the city of Merced, neighbors spent all day cutting up a 50 foot tall tree the wind knocked down Wednesday night. The weeping willow broke a fence and made a mess, but did not seriously damage the homes on either side.

"I just can't believe it," said Joe Vasquez. "It's a miracle it didn't break everything down, knock their house down too, you know. I'm glad nobody got hurt."

City crews also chopped up two fallen trees, including one on Nancy Court.

Public Works Director Stan Murdock says the damage could have been worse if the wind came with rain.

"Had it been wet, we would have seen a different result, said Murdock. "But the urban forest is fairly healthy right now, we don't anticipate any more."

But the wind alone did knock dozens of Christmas trees flat on their sides outside a store on Olive near G Street, leaving another reminder of this blustery December day.

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