Cleanup crews swarmed through downtown today as Utah's capital dusted itself off from a rare tornado that hit the heart of the city Wednesday, killing one person, injuring scores of others and damaging some of the city's most prominent landmarks.
"We've had crews up all night," Mayor Deedee Corradini said this morning, still marveling that a tornado with winds estimated between 113 and 157 mph could hit her city at the foot of the Wasatch Range, cut a three-mile swath through a crowded downtown and cause only one death. "We will have most of downtown open today. Be patient, but we're open for business."
Sections of two major downtown streets remained closed today, because of continuing danger from a dangling construction crane that partially collapsed atop a new assembly building being erected by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Temple Square and to permit workers to clean up the wreckage of a display tent that was shredded one day before an outdoor retailer convention was to begin.
Mike Stever, Salt Lake City's emergency program manager, said the city's estimate of total property damage is $150 million, but he added that the number is "in flux."
Nearly 1,000 construction workers are employed on the church building, but only two were injured by the storm, which struck at lunchtime, when many were off-site, including the crane operator. The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, the city's biggest convention gathering, brings about 18,000 people here annually and will open Friday. Many of the exhibitors, however, lost everything in the tornado and will have to share space with other vendors who set up space indoors at the Salt Palace.
The lone fatality occurred at the outdoor show, when Allen Crandy, 38, of Las Vegas, was struck by a metal beam used to hold up the exhibition tent. Crandy, a father of three, was killed on his 13th wedding anniversary.
About a dozen of the injured were listed in serious or critical condition. Northeast of the central business district, in a residential neighborhood known as the Avenues, scores of homeowners continued to remove fallen trees and pick through the wreckage of more than 100 homes hit hard by the tornado, which swept through shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday. About three dozen homes were declared uninhabitable.
The twister also destroyed several popular nightspots in the city's West End and did major damage to the Delta Center--home to the NBA's Utah Jazz and the WNBA's Utah Starzz. The arena, which lost about 10 percent of its roof and many windows, is expected to be closed for at least six weeks. Although the storm passed almost directly over Temple Square and the state Capitol, it did only minor damage to the centers of Utah's religious and political life.
Inspecting the downtown area again this morning, Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) praised the swift work of emergency workers and the cooperation among residents of the Avenues neighborhood, hundreds of whom pitched in to help one another. "This is a resilient place," he said.
Utah Power crews labored until 3 a.m. to restore electrical power to blacked-out areas. "The damage was quite extensive," said electrical worker Stan Spenser.
Roy Wasden, assistant Salt Lake police chief, said authorities had reported no incidents of looting. "We've experienced less crime than we normally do," he said. Although the city was hit by a mild tornado 31 years ago that blew out a few windows and injured one person, longtime residents said they never expected such a powerful storm to hit an area that usually doesn't have the right conditions of cold, unstable air blowing above warm, moist air.
"I've lived here a long time and I've never seen anything like it," said Corradini. "I think we're all in a state of shock."
Perhaps none more so than Kristie and Richard Gurgel, who exchanged wedding vows in the LDS Temple at Temple Square during the height of the storm, oblivious to the tornado until they walked outside for photographs and saw the damage.