One killed in northern Colorado tornado
Vail CO, Colorado
WINDSOR ” A large tornado tore through several northern Colorado towns on Thursday, killing at least one person and flipping over tractor-trailers, toppling freight rail cars and ripping roofs off buildings.
Emergency personnel were still trying to determine how many people were hurt, and how badly.
At least seven people were taken to the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland with injuries, said hospital spokesman Gary Kimsey. The nature and extent of their injuries were not immediately known.
“We have every type of injury, broken bones, cuts, bruises, from everything from falling trees to broken glass hitting them,” said Jolene Schneider, spokeswoman for the Windsor Fire Department. “Only thing we are trying to figure out now is how many and how severe.”
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said one man was killed at a campground west of Greeley, about 60 miles north of Denver. The man’s identity wasn’t immediately released.
Pete Ambrose, the caretaker at the Missile Park campground, said the man was in a recreational vehicle that was destroyed by the storm. Two other people camping at the park “got beat up, but they were still OK,” said Ambrose, who took shelter in a concrete-block restroom.
The National Weather Service said the storm touched down just after noon and tracked north-northwestward through or near the towns of Platteville, Gilcrest, Milliken, Greeley and Windsor. Windsor, a farm town of about 16,000, appeared the hardest hit, with at least one residential neighborhood heavily damaged.
Police officers went door to door in Windsor, looking for survivors, said Sgt. Joe Tymkowych of the police department in nearby Greeley. “We’re hoping to finish that by nightfall,” Tymkowych said.
Video footage showed a dark gray funnel perhaps a quarter-mile wide near Windsor with heavy hail and rain.
Helicopter footage from KUSA-TV9 showed several rail tanker cars lying on their sides along a rail line in downtown Windsor.
Homes and farm buildings lost roofs, utility poles were toppled and jackknifed truck blocked a state highway. Interstate 25, the main north-south highway, reopened to traffic, while parts of state Highway 85, an alternate route, were closed. Lockdowns of schools in the area were lifted about an hour after the storm passed.
The American Red Cross was setting up a shelter at the Windsor Community Center.
Splintered wood, mangled metal and other debris cluttered roads, yards and agricultural fields.
About 120 children at a daycare center in Windsor were reported safe after the storm passed through; playground equipment outside the center was damaged. The children were taken to an Eastman Kodak Co. plant on the town’s southeast edge that wasn’t hit, said company spokesman Chris Veronda.
Gov. Bill Ritter and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to tour the area by helicopter Thursday evening.
Tymkowych of the Greeley police said he was about a half-mile away from the tornado as it swept through the western edge of Evans and Greeley, an area that is mostly corn fields.
“It was a tornado that just sat on the ground,” Tymkowych said. “The amount of swirling debris and dust was just amazing, about a block, a block and a half wide. You could see debris just rotating, light poles, trees, you could see items being cast out from the sides, the edges of the tornado.”
The tornado damaged three buildings at a State Farm Insurance operations center on Greeley’s west side where about 1,200 people were working, but no one was hurt, company spokeswoman May Martinez-Hendershot said. “They were all able to get down into a safe center and we had no injuries,” she said.
“My house is gone,” said Ambrose, the caretaker at the Missile Park campground. “I lost my dog. I lost my cats. I lost my camper. I lost everything.”
Ambrose said the storm downed cottonwood trees and power poles, and heavily damaged a nearby dairy. He said one camper may have been killed, but his account could not be immediately verified.
In Windsor and Greeley, 10 miles to the east, the tornado knocked down trees and shattered windows.
“It passed right over us like a big, white monster,” said Thomas Coupe, 87, of Windsor.
As many as 60,000 customers lost power in the area. Service was later restored to 20,000 customers, according to XCel energy.
Kimsey said patients at a Fort Collins hospital were moved to hallways and non-emergency employees and visitors were ordered to the basement during the storm.
Rich Bruzewski said he and his wife were working in a shed on their farm near the small town of Gilcrest when the tornado struck their nearby house and the shed collapsed around them.
“We stood in the back of the shed and the shed collapsed and I was just hanging onto my wife for dear life,” a shaken Bruzewski said as he surveyed the debris of his house and a barn.
“It’s all gone,” he said.
The storm ripped an 8-foot-wide hole in the roof of the house and left bricks piled in the living room. A china cabinet near the bricks was untouched.
A tornado warning was dropped for an area about 100 miles northeast of Denver. KUSA said a funnel cloud was spotted near Longmont, some 30 miles north of Denver, but no damage was immediately reported.
Windsor resident Liz Meyer, 65, said she heard thunder and steadily increasing golf ball-size hail and rushed with her dog into her basement. Her house wasn’t damaged, but a 60-foot tree was uprooted and dumped near her home. “And look. It went into the street instead of into my house,” Meyer said.
The National Weather Service posted tornado watches for several areas of Colorado in the eastern plains through Thursday evening.