Associated Press Writer (AP Photo)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A rare tornado touched down without warning Wednesday in the downtown area, killing at least one person and injuring more than 100.
Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Mayor Deedee Corradini, said there was one confirmed dead and more than 100 hurt. Earlier, he had said there were four dead but later he said that was erroneous.
Chris Garcia of the city fire department said his people had transported about 25 people, seven critically injured.
John Dwan, University of Utah Hospital spokesman, told MSNBC that two people were in critical condition there, plus 10 with lesser injuries including severe cuts. More patients were likely to come in, he said.
He said he was expecting a thunderstorm as he drove back to work from lunch. “Then it got really dark … and I said ‘Boy, that is one of the biggest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen. Then it started swirling. You could see it swirling.”
Dwan recalled that he thought the approaching storm looked like a tornado, then he thought, “Nah, that couldn’t be a tornado, we don’t get those here.”
Bill Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service, confirmed that the location of the tornado was unusual. He said the state experiences only two tornados in a typical year.
The downtown area looked like a disaster zone with trucks overturned, power lines down, windows blown out, shards of glass everywhere, and police and firefighters attending to dozens of injured. Helicopters were landing to ferry injured to hospitals.
The streets were littered with debris from the outdoor retailer show at the Salt Palace, which was evacuated because of a gas leak. It was not known how many people, if any, were trapped beneath the beams of the collapsed tents used by the convention.
Dan Groff of San Diego, attending the retailers convention, said he saw several critically injured people in the area around the huge main tent.
“I helped one guy who had a beam fall on him. His knees were buckled under his chest. It just crushed him,” Groff said, adding that he could not detect a pulse.
Robert Stock of Toronto, a sales representative for a rock-climbing company, said he saw the roof of the Delta Center lift up when the tornado passed over.
“It peeled it right back, just like an orange peel,” he said.
David Gross, an exhibitor from Sudbury, Mass., was inside the Salt Palace, watching the tornado through a door. It resembled billowing black smoke.
“There was lots of thunder and wind,” he said. “The roof opened and it ripped off a door.
It was over in 15 or 20 seconds but it seemed like a lot longer than that. Everything was shaking and shaking.”
Crowds of people gathered on streetcorners to watch the funnel cloud over the Mormon Church’s historic Salt Lake Temple.
Heavy hail the size of marbles preceded and followed the ttornado. The weather service said that at 12:41 p.m., spotters reported a severe thunderstorm with 1 1/2-inch-diameter hail over the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley in the suburb of Herriman. Other strong and possible severe thunderstorms were reported in the area and in Davis County to the north.
Gary Morgan of Vancouver, Wash., was setting up a booth at the retailers convention.
“The building just started to flutter, then it became more intense until the structures were coming down and things were just flying through,” Morgan said, adding that at least a dozen people he saw were bleeding.