Colorado officials tour tornado damage

May 23, 2008 6:55:05 PM PDT
Natural gas leaks and the threat of explosions kept hundreds of anxious residents from assessing the damage to their homes on Friday, a day after a large tornado tore through a 35-mile stretch of northern Colorado, killing one person and injuring dozens. The twister damaged or destroyed homes, businesses, dairies and farms in several Weld County towns Thursday. The storm system pelted the region with golf ball-size hail, swept vehicles off roads and tipped 15 rail cars off the tracks in Windsor, a farm town about 70 miles north of Denver.

Police and more than 100 National Guard troops cordoned off a particularly hard-hit area of about one square mile on Friday so utility crews could check each home for gas leaks, repair gas mains severed by uprooted trees, remove downed power lines and clear streets of shattered glass and debris.

It might take a day or more to secure the area, said Bill Easterling, commander of the emergency response team. "I think at this point it's pretty much hit me," said a dejected Cindy Miller, a 46-year-old high school teacher. "I'm not going home for a while."

Before being ordered out Thursday, Miller found a wall to her house torn apart and insulation, glass, water and debris everywhere. Wooden planks had penetrated a bathroom wall, and her trampoline was in a neighbor's yard.

Authorities said about 100 homes were destroyed and another 100 were damaged by the tornado, which began near Platteville, about 20 miles south of Windsor.

A 52-year-old man was killed at a campground near Greeley, said Weld County Deputy Coroner Chris Robillard.

Thirteen people were treated at hospitals, and more than 100 others received medical attention for minor injuries, said Jim Shires, a spokesman for emergency responders. Crews searched the cordoned-off area of Windsor and found no additional victims. Gov. Bill Ritter toured the damage and declared a state of emergency for the area.

"I think it's just miraculous that there has not been more loss of life," U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave said after touring damaged neighborhoods Friday. She and Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard asked President Bush to declare the area a disaster to free up federal aid.

Conditions converged in just the right way, time and place to produce "a pretty remarkable tornado," said Greg Carbin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

A preliminary damage survey Friday by the National Weather Service showed the tornado that hit Greeley was likely an E-F3, with speeds from 136 mph to 165 mph, and the one that hit Windsor had wind speeds of 111 mph to 135 mph. Meteorologist Dan Leszcynski said it was unclear whether the twisters were one and the same.

Garry Briese, a regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA would find housing for displaced residents.

About 6,000 customers were still without power, and Xcel Energy said it could be a week before it's restored.

"We can't find poles, wires, transformers," utility spokesman Mark Stutz said. "Stuff is gone. There's nothing there."

Threatening skies, high winds and another tornado warning Friday forced workers to temporarily suspend cleanup and residents to scurry to shelter. At least two tornadoes were reported in the plains east of Windsor. No damage was reported.

Severe storms, some including tornadoes, also ripped through parts of Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and California on Thursday, damaging homes and farm lands. In northwestern Oklahoma, a truck ran off a road that had been washed away by heavy rain, killing a 14-year-old boy, state troopers said Friday.

Tornadoes touched down about 20 miles northwest of Cheyenne and near Interstate 80 in eastern Wyoming, said Chad Hahn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service there. Small tornadoes were also reported Friday in Platte County, he said. Some damage was reported but no injuries.

About 100 people have died in U.S. twisters so far this year, the worst toll in a decade, according to the weather service, and the danger has not passed yet. Tornado season typically peaks in the spring and early summer, then again in the late fall.

---

Associated Press writer Judith Kohler in Denver contributed to this report.

Load Comments