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October 24, 2014

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Residents of condo complex — which ‘looked like a post-Hurricane Katrina landscape’ — await word on extent of damage, when they can return home

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Riley Snyder

Fallen trees and other debris littered the Atrium Gardens condominium compound on Monday. Tree removal crews are working to remove some of the fallen trees, but a Friday windstorm that caused the damage has kept around 1,000 people from returning to their homes.

Shelter offered at Desert Pines High School

Nearly 1,000 residents of the Atrium Gardens condominium complex were forced to play the waiting game Monday, as they wait for tree removal crews, building assessors and insurance companies to estimate the damage from the weekend storm that uprooted trees and severely damaged about half of the complex's homes.

Most of the damage came during Friday's thunderstorms, which forced many of the 1,000 residents to evacuate due to heavy wind gusts and falling trees, which damaged about half of the 208 condominium units in the complex, Atrium Gardens Homeowner's Association President Andrea Orellana said. Though all residents were asked to evacuate, several people decided to stay despite no electricity and ruptured gas lines throughout the complex, she said.

Though several buildings seemed untouched by the storm, others displayed battle scars and heavy damage from falling trees and other debris. The change was unsettling, Orellana said.

"One of the Red Cross people said it looked like a post-Hurricane Katrina landscape," she said. "It led one to believe there was some kind of cyclone."

Ideally, residents of the undamaged areas will be able to move back to their homes by the end of the week as long as gas and electricity can be restored, Orellana said. But for residents bearing the brunt of the damage, the wait could be much longer: up to several months depending on the extent of the damage, she said.

"It's just a long, agonizing process," she said.

The Southern Nevada Red Cross is providing shelter and assistance to residents forced out of their homes at Desert Pines High School, only a block or two away from the affected area, group spokesman Lloyd Ziel said. A total of 42 people spent the night at the shelter Saturday night and 18 on Sunday, but the number may increase as residents get a better handle on how long the repair process will take, Ziel said.

The Nevada State Contractor's Board issued a media release Monday advising homeowners with property damage to avoid hiring unlicensed contractors, who may prey on people who need emergency repairs to their homes. Homeowners who hire unlicensed contractors are not eligible for recovery funds should workmanship issues arise.

But actually repairing the homes may be an issue for several homeowners, as several people have contacted Orellana with concerns of not having the proper insurance to have their home rebuilt.

And though it might be easy to second-guess their decisions now, such weather conditions — with wind gusts reaching up to 92 miles per hour — had never been seen in that area, Orellana said.

Building assessors from the city of Las Vegas were on scene Monday and should start letting homeowners know exactly how much damage was caused and when they can move back in sometime tomorrow, city spokeswoman Diana Paul said. NV Energy is waiting for the city's approval to turn power back on in the area; no power lines were damaged in the storm, spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said.

The Red Cross plans to operate the shelter as long as there is a need, but Ziel said most of the evacuees won't be happy to simply play the victim.

"What we find is that after a disaster, people want to get on their feet as soon as they can," he said.

Ziel said the Red Cross is accepting cash donations to help those affected by the storm; call 702-369-3674 to donate.

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