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Rare Tornado Devastates Downtown Salt Lake City

August 12, 1999|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Delta Center's roof and siding were damaged. David Gross witnessed the damage to the large sports arena. "I saw billowing black smoke, heard the thunder and wind, and then the roof opened."

As emergency crews converged to lend aid, the modern downtown cityscape offered a frenzied scene as rescue helicopters settled down on glass-littered streets to remove the injured.

Emergency personnel searched among debris in office buildings for survivors. Search dogs stepped gingerly amid the tattered remains of the outdoor market.

Around the city there were reports of gas leaks, power outages and disruptions in telephone service. Power lines that managed to stay aloft sagged under the weight of debris.

Along one avenue near the convention center, utility poles were blown sideways, like so many tall toothpicks. Bricks from historic territorial buildings rained down on cars. Debris was deposited at random: A kitchen stove was sitting in a street next to a child's doll.

"In all my years in Salt Lake City I've never seen anything like it," Mayor Dee Dee Corradini said.

Late in the day after flying over the destruction, Gov. Mike Leavitt declared the stricken blocks a disaster area.

President Clinton said officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency were already on the ground and more were on the way to help local officials.

The Utah Highway Patrol shut down all major roads into downtown because of traffic congestion and debris. A sheriff's deputy said a few looters tried to go through the spoiled merchandise but were chased way; no arrests were reported.

In recent years tornadoes have touched down in a number of major cities, including Oklahoma City, Nashville and Miami.

The afternoon's carnage was the latest evidence of odd weather patterns affecting different parts of the country this summer. While parts of the Middle Atlantic and New England are suffering through the worst drought in a century, the middle of the country and the Rocky Mountains have been unusually rainy and California is experiencing an unseasonably cool summer, according to climate experts.

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Tornado Hits Salt Lake City

A tornado tore through downtown Salt Lake City, blowing out windows at the Wyndham Hotel and damaging the Delta Center and Salt Palace Convention Center.

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