Hidden dangers lurk in ABQ tunnels

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It runs through the heart of Albuquerque, but the bottom of the Embudo Arrroyo feels miles apart from the streets that cross over and run next to it. Jeff Willis is at the wheel of an Albuquerque Metro Area Flood Control Authority SUV driving down the middle of the muddy concrete channel.

Willis drives by the homeless camps set up underneath the bridges and points them out as the SUV rolls past. He stops as he encounters a women walking midway up the side of the channel.

“Please be careful in the channel and stay out of it OK?” Willis said before rolling on.

On Tuesday, Willis, AMAFCA’s real estate manager, gave KRQE News 13 a tour of the underground tunnels the group is particularly concerned about.

One of them, about a quarter mile long, runs underneath Jefferson. Plenty of people have made their mark here with graffiti. But it’s a deceptively dangerous place.

“It can be raining five, six, seven miles from here and maybe even be clear here and you’ll get water flowing through this channel,” Willis said. “A lot of times you can’t hear or see what’s going on up above you as far as rainstorms.”

Last month, a man swept up in the arroyo was rescued shortly after he was carried through the pitch black tunnels.

That same day a teen girl was plucked from the raging waters just before a different set of tunnels near Winrock Mall.

“Even though she probably knew better, she was still in and around the channel and got pulled into it,” Willis said.

The Jefferson tunnel is far from the most dangerous. Just a little ways downstream, about halfway up the side of the arroyo is a much more cramped drainage tunnel. The graffiti coating the walls shows it’s no less attractive to teens and troublemakers.

“This is the worst possible place,” Willis said. “You get in there, you can’t run out.”

Willis says AMAFCA crews do what they can to warn people about the dangers of channels and tunnels. When workers find kids playing in the channel, Willis says they’ll hand out pool passes in the hope that they’ll play somewhere else.

“Find another alternative place to play,” Willis said. “Your children deserve that.”

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