Colorado tornado kills one, injures 13 |

Colorado tornado kills one, injures 13

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Ann Bruzewski and Jim Shette talk in front of her house in Platteville, Colo., after a tornado moved through the area on Thursday May 22, 2008. Tornadoes touched down in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming on Thursday, damaging buildings, flipping vehicles and killing at least one person. (AP Photo/The Daily Tribune, Eric Bellamy)
AP | The Daily Tribune

WINDSOR, Colo. ” A large tornado bounced through several northern Colorado towns on Thursday, killing at least one person, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and flipping over tractor-trailers and freight rail cars.

Dazed residents retrieved what they could from their homes in Windsor, a town of 16,000 about 70 miles north of Denver that was hardest hit. Power crews removed downed lines and poles from streets and bulldozers cleared debris.

“I didn’t want to see this. That’s for sure,” said Alexander Martinez, 41, gazing at a staircase, balcony, television and couch from his apartment that ended up in his front yard in an east Windsor neighborhood. The roof and a front wall were gone.

“It passed right over us like a big, white monster,” said Thomas Coupe, 87, of Windsor.

The large storm cloud brought heavy hail and descended nearly without warning, touching down near Platteville, about 50 miles north of Denver. Over the next hour, it skipped along a 35-mile-long northwesterly track past Gilcrest, Milliken, Greeley, Windsor and Timnath before the system moved on into southern Wyoming, where a tornado was reported in Laramie.

Nine people were hospitalized with various injuries at the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, said spokesman Alex Stuessie. In Greeley, four people were treated for minor injuries at North Colorado Medical Center, said administrative representative Laurie Hamit.

Several other, minor tornadoes were reported in northern Colorado throughout the day, the National Weather Service said.

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, 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 as the tornado passed overhead.

“My house is gone,” said Ambrose. “I lost my dog. I lost my cats. I lost my camper. I lost everything.”

Loree Wilkinson, 39, said her children, ages 6 and 9, were playing with hail outside their home until the hail got bigger. She rushed them into the basement.

Wilkinson said her youngest child, Kazden, prayed: “Please don’t let me die because I just graduated from kindergarten.”

Richard Dykstra, 65, was in his Windsor pest-control office with six other people when it began to hail and the roof began to slide off the building. “We had about 90 seconds, but we managed to get into the basement,” Dykstra said.

He said he then ran to a day care center where his grandson was. No children were hurt, and they were herded into a vault at a nearby bank until the storm system cleared.

Golf ball-size hail started falling at The Universal Forest Products Lumber Yard when controller Mark Duncan hurried employees into the basement. “It just hit without warning,” he said.

For 10 minutes, said forklift operator Edgar Celedon, 26, the workers heard tin and metal crashing and windows breaking. They dodged falling lights and insulation flying around inside the basement.

The plant’s manager took cover in a ditch next to rail tracks across the street ” and narrowly escaped injury when the storm blew freight cars over, Duncan said.

The tornado overturned 15 railroad cars and destroyed a lumber car on the Great Western Railway of Colorado, said Mike Ogburn, managing director of Denver-based Omnitrax Inc., which manages the railroad. Fourteen of the overturned cars were tankers but they were empty.

Police officers went door to door in Windsor, looking for any missing survivors. The American Red Cross set up a downtown shelter, and a second shelter opened at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.

Gov. Bill Ritter toured the area and declared a state of emergency for Weld County, mobilizing the Colorado National Guard to assist with disaster response.

Jim Kalina, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said two or three major storm cells affected the area and that the weather service was trying to confirm how many tornados touched down.

The tornado toppled tractor-trailers across Highway 85 and cut power to 60,000 customers. All but 15,000 had power restored late Thursday. Xcel Energy said it lost two large transmission lines and about 200 utility poles.

The utility was also responding to a handful of natural gas leaks at homes, mostly in Windsor. Company spokesman Tom Henley said leaks were detected where houses were ripped off their foundations or gas meters were damaged.

About 120 children at a daycare center in Windsor were reported safe after the storm passed through; playground equipment outside the center was damaged.

Sgt. Joe Tymkowych of the Greeley police said he was about a half-mile away from the tornado as it swept northward.

“The amount of swirling debris and dust was just amazing, about a block, a block and a half wide,” Tymkovich said. “You could see debris just rotating, light poles, trees, you could see items being cast out from the sides.”

Rich Bruzewski said he and his wife were working in a shed on their farm near Gilcrest, population 1,500, when the tornado struck.

“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. The storm ripped an 8-foot-wide hole in the roof and left bricks piled in the living room. A china cabinet near the bricks was untouched.

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