SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A tornado touched down without warning
Wednesday in the downtown area, damaging buildings and causing
dozens of injuries.
The black funnel uprooted trees and tents set up for a retailers
convention. It also damaged the roofs of the Delta Center, home of
the Utah Jazz basketball team, and the Salt Palace Convention
Center. At the nearby Wyndham Hotel, windows were blown out.
Authorities had no immediate comment on the number of injured or
on whether there were fatalities.
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 shredded tents 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.
Dan Groff of San Diego, attending the retailers convention, said
he saw several critically injured people in the area around the
huge outdoor tent housing the convention.
"I helped one guy who had a beam fall on him. His knees were
buckled under his chest. It just crushed him," Groff said.
He said he checked the man for vital signs but could not detect
a pulse as others tried to lift the beam.
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
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
Bill Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather
Service, said the location of the tornado was unusual. He said the
state experiences only two tornados in a typical year.
The weather service said that at 12:41 p.m., spotters reported a
severe thunderstorm with 11/2-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.
(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)