Mile-wide tornado hits Windsor, Weld County – The Denver Post

Windsor was hit by a mile-wide tornado around lunch time, and at least one person died as the twister carved a swath of destruction through Weld County.

Colorado State Trooper Ryan Sullivan said the tornado caused multiple crashes and multiple injuries on highways in Weld County.

The Weld County coroner’s office has confirmed at least one death. The man was a resident at a campground outside Greeley, the county said in a statement.

Weld County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Ken Poncelow said “dozens of houses and dozens of cars” were badly damaged and that several semis were rolled off US 85 north of Gilcrest.

There are no other reports of fatalities and relatively few injuries, mostly minor. He said all agencies have been mobilized and that extra shifts have been called in.

Seven people were admitted to Medical Center of the Rockies with injuries, but their conditions weren’t available, said spokesman Gary Kimsey. Poudre Valley Hospital, which is part of the same hospital system, received no casualties.

Both facilities moved patients into hospital hallways as a safety precaution from 12:45 pm to 1:30 pm as the storm moved through. Poudre Valley Hospital also moved about 200 non-medical personnel and visitors into the basement.

Patrick Love of the Poudre Valley Fire Authority, who is acting as spokesman in Windsor, said that Windsor was hit by “multiple tornadoes” on the southeast side of the town.

“We have multiple structures damaged and multiple injuries,” said Love.

He said that by 4 pm, about 70 percent of the area hit by the tornadoes had been searched.

The heaviest damage was reported in Dacono, Windsor and Greeley, according to the weather service.

A daycare center in Windsor was damaged, but the children had been evacuated to a nearby bank before the tornado hit.

Hundreds of businesses and homes in the town of 18,670 were damaged. Trees and power lines were down throughout Windsor. Cars were smashed by falling trees and poles. Some were overturned.

On a farm just outside of Windsor, a corrugated metal barn was destroyed, and dead calves were strewn on the road nearby. The bodies of cattle littered a field nearby, and shredded metal was everywhere.

Chris Schmachtenberger, a spokesman for Carestream Health, said the company’s manufacturing plant in Windsor had minor damage. He said the company still is assessing the impact.

Kodak and Carestream, which operate on the same campus in Windsor, lost power because of a downed transmission line but said no injuries were reported.

The State Farm building in Greeley, the regional headquarters of the insurance agency, received a “direct hit.”

The weather service said the roof of the Swift & Co. building was torn off.

The tornado was three-quarters of a mile to one mile wide when moved through Greeley, according to the weather service.

The Red Cross is setting up a shelter at the Windsor Community Center, 250 11th St., and the Denver chapter is sending people and supplies to help the Fort Collins chapter.

Larimer County spokeswoman Deni La Rue said The Ranch (Budweiser Events Center & Fairgrounds) at Crossroads Boulevard and I-25, is also open as a shelter.

The ranch has canceled all events tonight and is preparing 200 meals to help.

Approximately 500-1000 people will shelter there tonight, she said in a news release, and the center can house up to 300 livestock.

gov. Bill Ritter declared a state of emergency and called out the Colorado National Guard.

“We will be doing all we can to assist the people of Weld County as we assess the damage and determine how the state can provide the most effective aid,” Ritter said in a news release. “My heart goes out to the people of Weld County during this very dangerous time.”

Large, golf-ball to quarter-sized hail and rain were reported as the large storm system moved northeast.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said a spotter saw a funnel cloud in southwest Loveland at about 12:45 pm Others were spotted at the Fort Collins Emergency Operations Center, Fossil Creek Reservoir and north of Wellington, and 60 mph winds and quarter-sized hail were reported at Buckhorn Mountain.

A tornado touched down in the area near Johnstown, 8 miles southwest of Greeley, the National Weather Service reported.

Schools in affected areas were put on lockdown. By 3:30, the Poudre district was letting parents pick up their children.

Larimer sheriff’s spokesperson Eloise Campanella said residents in one home near County Road 54 were trapped inside by a fallen tree, and a home east of Interstate 25 on 5CR 6 appeared to have been hit.

Wendy Forbes of the North Metro Fire Protection District said a call came in about 12:30 pm of a “microburst or possible tornado” near the intersection Weld County Road 11 and Weld County Road 6. A man was injured when the five-wheel trailer he was in flipped over, trapping him inside. He was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Five outbuildings were leveled, she said, one home damaged and metal fencing also was destroyed.

Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said the tornado damaged three power transmission lines, including a pair of 230,000-volt lines at the utility’s Fort St. Vrain power plant near Platteville.

“We estimate that as many as 60,000 customers lost service as the storm passed through,” Stutz said.

About 15,000 Xcel customers in Windsor, Johnstown, Platteville and Gilcrest will remain without power until at least Friday, he said this evening. The company has restored power for about 45,000 other customers.

More than 200 power poles were damaged by the tornadoes, including a half-dozen transmission poles. Stutz said Xcel will have to rebuild the system from scratch.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “We’ve seen tornadoes before, but rarely do they strike in such a population center.”

He said the best-case scenario is that the company will spend several days on repairs. It has dispatched 25 crews to the affected areas and will send 10 more by tomorrow.

Xcel also had reports of about a half-dozen natural gas leaks, but those are contained.

To report outages or leaks, call Xcel at 800-895-4999.

A Qwest crew was on site assessing the damage to service in the affected areas, said spokeswoman Jennifer Barton.

“Additional crews have been dispatched,” she said. “I don’t have details on exact services impacted, number of customers potentially impacted, or any information on restoration yet.”

Jennifer Dimas of Windsor, manager of media relations for Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said the school sent a text message campus-wide about the tornado warning. Then she called her son’s school, St. Joseph’s in Fort Collins, to alert them. The school verified the information and put the school on lockdown, she said.

Finally, she called her husband, Ted, who was working in Windsor.

Earlier he had told her it was “hailing like crazy” and that he was outside with the video camera.

She couldn’t reach him on the phone, so she texted him to get home and into the basement quickly.

Then she didn’t hear from him for a while.

“I was an absolute wreck for about an hour,” Dimas recalled. “If you can’t get a hold of someone, you can get in a panic.”

Her husband did call, telling her that he was OK and that their home had minor wind and hail damage.

“I grew up in Colorado, so tornadoes usually don’t rattle me too much,” she said. “I wasn’t that concerned, and then I started seeing what it had done to my town.”

Residents were advised to take tornado precautions, including taking shelters in basements or under sturdy furniture such as workbenches.

In buildings without basements, interior hallways or closets are considered safest, according to the National Weather Service.

Residents of mobile homes are advised to evacuate them for stronger shelters or to seek ditches and low spots if trapped outdoors.

Severe thunderstorms could develop this afternoon around Fort Morgan, Byers and Limon, the weather service said, and large hail and heavy rain is possible. Winds on the plains associated with the storms could gust up to 45 mph.

The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory this afternoon that included northeastern Larimer County. A tornado watch for the area is in effect until 8 pm

Staff writers Kieran Nicholson, Howard Pankratz, Bruce Finley, Cynthia Pasquale, Vikki Migoya, Kevin Simpson, Andy Voung and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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