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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK

World: Americas

Tornado strikes Salt Lake City

The streets around the convention were littered with debris

A rare tornado has swept through Salt Lake City in the western state of Utah, killing at least one person and injuring dozens more.

Tom Carver: The view from ground level was terrifying
With winds of over 100 mph (160kmh), the tornado struck without warning in the downtown area of the city, blowing off parts of the state's largest arena before moving on to a residential neighbourhood.

Power lines were ripped down, roofs torn off several buildings, windows blown out and the streets littered with debris.

Helicopters landed in the streets to ferry the injured to hospital, and all major roads leading downtown were closed.

'Torrent of destruction'

Police put the damage at millions of dollars.

Governor Mike Leavitt declared a state of emergency in the city, which faced what he called a "torrent of destruction".

[ image: A black swirling cloud swept across the city]
A black swirling cloud swept across the city
The city's Mayor, Deedee Corradini, said 121 homes had been 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.

Robert Stock, a sales representative from Toronto, said he saw the roof of the Delta Center lift up when the tornado swept over.

Jill Waldbillig from the Salt Lake City Fire Department: "It was a freak incident"
"It peeled it right back, just like an orange peel," he said.

A large tent set up near the Salt Palace for the convention was destroyed in the storm, and rescue workers feared people were still trapped beneath it.

Dan Groff of San Diego, who was attending the convention, said he saw several critically injured people near the huge outdoor tent.

[ image: The tornado swept through the downtown area]
The tornado swept through the downtown area
"I helped one guy who had a beam fall on him. His knees were buckled under his chest. It just crushed him," Mr Groff said.

Fifty people were sent to hospital, 12 with moderate injuries and two in a critical condition, a spokeswoman for Utah Comprehensive Emergency Management, Alicia McGregor, said.

Between 100 and 150 more were treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Some 20,000 residences and businesses, including a major hospital, lost electricity when the tornado took out the power lines, Margaret Kesler of Utah Power said.

But by 1600 local time (2200 GMT) only 7,000 to 10,000 customers were still in the dark. She said power should be completely restored sometime on Thursday.

'It couldn't have picked a worse place'

Wednesday's tornado was reported to be the first to hit Salt Lake City since 1968.

Powerful tornadoes regularly sweep across the central United States, but weather conditions are rarely conducive in Utah - which sees an average of only two tornadoes a year.

Salt Lake City itself is seen as an especially strange location for a tornado because it is surrounded by mountains and sits on the Great Salt Lake.

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

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