Weather

Wild weather breaks windshields, floods mall

Jeffco takes a beating when heavy hail moves through area

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Steph Burnett of Green Mountain said she was shopping in the Colorado Mills Target on May 8 with her 5-year-old daughter when the hail struck.

“We just stood there watching car windows explode until it stopped,” Burnett said.

The hailstorm that swept through much of the Denver metro area about 3 p.m. on May 8 caused widespread damage, particularly in Jefferson County. The National Weather Service reports nearly three inches of hail fell near Lutheran Hospital in Wheat Ridge during the brief storm.

West Metro Fire and Rescue responded to about six traffic accidents that occurred during the worst of the storm, said Ronda Scholting, communications and media relations specialist with West Metro.

“There were a few people who reported injuries from getting caught in the hail, but they were pretty minor,” she added. “The northwest part of the district and Colfax seemed to have gotten pretty badly hit.”

Dozens of residents and shoppers in the Lakewood and Wheat Ridge area posted photos on social media of vehicle damage. Some area power lines were also downed during the storm, including one near the Red Rocks Community College campus in Arvada.

The Colorado Mills mall shut down in the aftermath of the hailstorm, as roof damage and shattered skylights, followed by considerable rain in the days that followed, forced the indefinite closure of the mall. Water damage vans were seen working inside the mall the rest of the week. Although the Target store has since reopened. The mall’s website said the facility remains closed as of May 15, with no reopening date set.

During the May 15 Lakewood City Council study session, Kathy Hodgson, Lakewood’s city manager, commented on Colorado Mill’s closing and said owners are referring to the storm as the “11 minute event.”

“I was there with our police chief the day after, and got to go to the roof and see that damage,” she said. “I was also in the mall, and the precipitation was coming down on my head inside the mall.”

Lakewood has been extending Colorado Mills as much support as possible, Hodgson added. Lakewood Police have a substation at the mall, and those officers have been transfered to police headquarters for the time being.

There are about 3,000 employees at Colorado Mills impacted by the damage, and Hodgson said as of the last update she’s received, power has been restored, but due to the continued rain and damage to electrical systems and mechanical systems including HVAC and lighting, the mall is not a full capacity.

“They’re working as quickly as they can, but they don’t have an estimate in terms of when they’ll be up and operating again,” she said. “I have extended an invitation to the general manager, who we’re working very closely with, to come and give you an overview when they’re ready for that.”

The mall is home to many small businesses, and Hodgson took a moment to let them know they have the city’s support.

“Thoughts and prayers for those folks at the mall, especially the small tenants, who have invested their life savings for the inventory and those small businesses,” she said. “We just hope they can get this up and running soon.”

Burnett said her own windshield, destroyed in the storm, has already been replaced, but the car is so dented it may be considered totaled for insurance purposes. She said the bigger problem in the storm’s aftermath is how bad it frightened her child.

“She woke up this morning (May 10) from the thunderstorm crying and worried it was going to start hailing again,” Burnett said.

Employees at the Larry Miller Volkswagen dealership at 8275 West Colfax Ave. said they had 150 car windows broken on their lot by the storm. Similar damage was reported at the Stevenson car dealership lots.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association reports Colorado as second only to Texas in terms of total hail damage insurance claims. The group’s website dubs the Front Range as part of “Hail Alley,” the portion of North America with the highest frequency for hail. Also, in the last 10 years, hailstorms have caused more than $3 billion in insured damage in Colorado.

According to Hodgson, 110 city vehicles were damaged, including a combination of glass, body damage, overhead lights, and damage to GPS systems. Police vehicles are being repaired first by the city. Hodgson also said Initial reports show about 12,000 to 15,000 residential roofs were damaged.

Pickering’s Auto Service in Lakewood focuses on auto-repair work, as opposed to body work, but that hasn’t stopped their call volume from increasing after the storm, said Taylor Pickering, marketing director with the shop.

“Because of the storm, we’re working with a mobile dent repair company to provide that to our customers,” she added. “They will be setting up in our parking lot to help people.”

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