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Remembering Salt Lake City's tornado 10 years later

By Ed Yeates | Posted - Aug. 10, 2009 at 10:07 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- A tornado in downtown Salt Lake City? Never say never! Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of that infamous F2-level storm that cut a path of destruction through the heart of our city.

August 11th, 1999. Amateur photographers almost flippantly watched a tornado move towards them. The twister tore up trees and power lines, overturned cars, shattered windows and doors, ripped up roofs, blew down walls and knocked people around like toothpicks.

From 1300 West and 400 South, to the Capitol grounds, to Memory Grove, and finally the Avenues: the short 10-minute blaster left a trail of rubble.

Though Allen Crandy with the Outdoor Retailers Convention was the only death, another woman came very close to it.

In Memory Grove, everything is lush and green today; the leaves are hardly shimmering in the breeze. But 10 years ago, the tornado stripped almost everything off hillsides above the park. Trees were flying everywhere, and Loretta Orgill was right in their path.

"When it first hit, I was looking out towards the park and I saw tree limbs, and maybe trees, going like daggers across the road," Orgill said.

One of those "daggers," part of a 6-inch diameter tree, hit her in the back of the head.

"I just felt this very hard blow to my head, and I thought my head was going to come off," Orgill said.

KSL 5 News met Richard Carling Monday, while he was running with colleagues in Memory Grove. Ten years ago, he took refuge on a bridge at the same time Orgill went down.

"And when it was over, we got up and there she was. And there was blood all over the place," Carling said.

Orgill ended up in ICU at Salt Lake Regional Hospital. Surgeons there removed bone splinters and discs and fused part of her spine. They put in bone struts and two rods to hold everything together.

This weekend, we met her as she hiked with a friend in Neff's Canyon. Though still experiencing some discomfort and pain, she's alive. But even now, she still gets leery when storms darken the skies.

"I'll kind of be listening for that freight train sound, wondering what's going to happen," Orgill said.

Happen? Could it, again? Even downtown? Maybe, maybe not. Between 1950 and 2005, the weather service has documented 121 tornadoes in Utah, but until now none have been as freakish or devastating as that 1999 event.

E-mail: eyeates@ksl.com

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Ed Yeates

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