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For the week of August 18th, 1999 through August 24th, 1999

Locals caught in Salt Lake funnel

Express Staff Writer

When a violent thunderstorm turned into an even more violent swirling funnel cloud in downtown Salt Lake City last week, several Wood River Valley residents found themselves in a very dangerous situation.

A handful of Wood River locals were on the Wasatch Front during the devastating tornado for an annual summer outdoor show called the Outdoor Retailers Summer Market, which was scheduled to start on Thursday.

One of the show’s outdoor tents received the full wrath of the storm and even the iron-and-steel-clad convention center that housed many of the outdoor retailers for the show was not immune to the tornado’s effects.

No Wood River Valley residents were injured or killed, according to interviews with the Idaho Mountain Express. The total injury toll included one fatality, 12 people reported to be in serious or critical condition and 40 more transported to area hospitals, the Associated Press said.

Ketchum residents Alyson Wilson and Christine Evangelides were at the retailers’ show to introduce the debut edition of their new outdoor magazine, "Elevation." Fortunately, they were away getting lunch when the twister struck. One of their booths—they had two—was demolished by the 150-mile-an-hour winds, and the other was severely damaged, Wilson said in an interview.

As they were driving back to the show after eating, the sky started to do strange things, she said.

"We saw the sky turn green—a wild lime green, almost a neon color. We saw the clouds start to circle and gather and then the center of the spiral started to drop toward the ground," Wilson said.

When they returned to their booths in the wake of the ravaging winds they found rubble and mayhem instead of the orderly rows of displays that had been there prior to their departure.

"There were [injured] bodies everywhere," Wilson said. "People were getting worked on. It was total chaos."

If the tornado had arrived an hour earlier or later, however, things may have been worse, Wilson said. The twister touched down at approximately 1 p.m. while many of the show’s retailers at lunch.

Ketchum resident Allison Akehurst was also at the show. She was there representing the Ketchum business, A Tail We Could Wag, a company that specializes in manufacturing dog collars, leashes as well as human accessories. Her business had a booth that was inside the convention center. Her booth was undamaged.

There was a roll-down door in a corner, no more than 200 feet away from Akehurst’s booth, she said. She heard people yelling from the door for others to hurry into the convention center’s relative safety as the winds started to howl. When the door was finally closed, it exploded inward, Akehurst said in an interview.

"Lots of people were yelling—booths blew over and lots of stuff blew into the air," she said. "It was very loud. It kind of sounded like a train really close."

Akehurst said the roof of the building rose and rippled, and there were a lot of uprooted trees and strewn glass in the parking lots.

"It was definitely an experience and definitely something I don’t want to be in again," she said.

Ketchum-based Smith Sport Optics representatives were also at the show. Smith executive assistant and Hailey resident Robyn Marrelli, who grew up in Salt Lake City, said, "We never have tornadoes."

She and over 70 Smith executives from around the world—including about 20 Wood River Valley residents—were in a board meeting at the Wyndham Hotel when the funnel landed.

All of the windows of the room the Smith representatives were in shot inward, Marrelli said in an interview. One of the sales representative’s cars was picked up and skewered by a road sign.

"The devastation was absolutely incredible," she said.

Thanks to help from numerous volunteers, Salt Lake City is well on its way to rebuilding following last Wednesday’s devestation.


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.