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Salt Lake City Tornado Injures 100

August 12, 1999

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A rare tornado swept through downtown on Wednesday, tossing trucks and trees around and shredding tents set up for a convention. At least one person was killed and more than 100 were injured.

``It couldn’t have picked a worse place,″ said National Weather Service meteorologist David Hogan. ``The chance of it hitting a city right smack where it did today is pretty slim.″

Power lines were ripped down, roofs torn off, windows blown out and shards of glass were everywhere. Helicopters landed in the streets to ferry the injured to hospitals and all major roads leading downtown were closed.

The fatality was the first recorded tornado-related death in the history of a state that averages two tornadoes a year.

Gov. Mike Leavitt flew over the mile-long path of destruction before declaring a state of emergency. Mayor Deedee Corradini said 121 homes were damaged, 34 of which were uninhabitable.

The black funnel cloud also damaged the roofs of the Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz basketball team, and the Salt Palace Convention Center, which was hosting an outdoor retailers show.

The streets were littered with shredded tents set up for the convention.

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.

Dan Groff of San Diego, attending the convention, said he saw several ``critically injured people.″

``I helped one guy who had a beam fall on him. ... It just crushed him,″ Groff said.

Scott Ellenwood, an employee of an audio-visual company who had been setting up a sound system for the convention, and other workers raced for a place to hide when the twister came.

``I thought, ’This is it. We’re going to die,‴ said Daren Loyola, who was working with Ellenwood. ``I thought about my wife and my daughter. I tried to run, but the wind was so strong that I felt like I was going nowhere.″

Authorities said Allen Crandy, 38, of Las Vegas was killed when he was struck in the head with flying debris. Crandy worked for Renaissance Management and was an exhibitor at one of the outdoor retailer tents.

Alicia McGregor, spokeswoman for the Utah Comprehensive Emergency Management, said 50 people were hospitalized, 12 with moderate injuries and two in critical condition. Between 100 and 150 more treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Crowds gathered on street corners to watch the twister over the Mormon church’s Salt Lake Temple, which was not damaged.

A severe thunderstorm watch was issued at 12:48 p.m.; the twister touched down about seven minutes later.

``We saw what was going on,″ said David Toronto, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. ``But to look at it and say there’s a tornado and it’s going to hit downtown _ we didn’t have that information because of the rapid development.″

Hogan said the tornado was classified as a low-end F2, which has winds of between 110 mph and 150 mph. ``We’re thinking maybe closer to 100 mph.″

``Sometimes we get a `Wizard of Oz’ mentality that they occur in the middle of nowhere,″ said Tim Shy, a meteorology researcher at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

``There have been enough counter examples here recently as Oklahoma City, Nashville and downtown Miami got hit in the last few years,″ he said.

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