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High winds in Austin damage Capitol

AUSTIN -- Although the Goddess of Liberty remained standing atop the Texas Capitol, more than a half dozen ancient trees on the Capitol grounds were not so fortunate.

High winds smashed through Austin early Thursday, splitting trees and causing property damage -- including some damage to the regal Capitol building, as well as to the building that houses offices for the Texas attorney general.

Julie Fields, a spokeswoman for the State Preservation Board that oversees the Capitol grounds, said windows were blown out from the top of the dome, showering glass down on the rotunda floor, several stories below.

But the storm resulted in a nearly unprecedented sight: many of the uppermost windows around the Capitol dome were boarded up with plywood. "We'll have to get those repaired ASAP," she said.

As for the damage to the surrounding grounds, Fields counted seven old trees that had been destroyed or uprooted, and another 13 that sustained moderate to major damage. She said the uprooted and damaged trees included live oaks, pecan trees, and several red oaks.

A contractor clearing up smashed trees said some were over 100 years old. He also said several fruit trees were uprooted.

"We have four crews and 14 people out here," said Brent Frazier of Certified Arbor Care. "The Capitol had the most (tree) damage (among Arbor Care clients) -- this is by far the worst damage we've been called out on."

Workmen spent much of the morning chain sawing the remains of the trees and feeding them into a humming wood chipper.

Not far to the north, the 15-story William P. Clements State Office Building also sustained fairly serious damage, said Edward Johnson, executive director of the Texas Facilities Commission.

He said 50 windows were either partially or completely blown out, and that many of the offices sustained water damage. The Clements building houses support staff for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

"We also had some granite on the exterior that was damaged fairly severely," said Johnson.

Elsewhere, reported wind gusts of up to 70 mph from the storms left 39,000 Austin residents without power, according to a spokesman for Austin Energy. He said it would take days to get electricity completely restored.

"We had a really significant and ferocious storm that pulled huge trees right out of the ground," said Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark.