SALT LAKE CITY -- At least one person was killed and more than 100 were injured early Wednesday afternoon when a sudden tornado touched down in the downtown area, causing widespread damage.
The black funnel cloud uprooted trees and temporary buildings set up for a retailers convention. It also damaged the roofs of the Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz, and the Salt Palace Convention Center.
At the nearby Wyndham Hotel, windows were blown out and firefighters could be seen tending to dozens of injured people nearby.
At least one person died and more than 100 were injured when the tornado struck about 1 p.m., said Ken Connaughton, spokesman for Mayor Deedee Corradini, correcting his earlier count of four dead.
Chris Garcia of the city fire department said his people had transported about 25 people, seven critically injured.
The downtown area looked like a disaster zone with trucks overturned, power lines down, windows blown out, shards of glass everywhere, police and firefighters attending to dozens of wounded people. Helicopters were landing in city streets to ferry the injured to hospitals.
The streets are littered with shredded tents from the outdoor retailer show at the Salt Palace, which was evacuated because of a gas leak. It was not known how many people, if any, were trapped beneath the collapsed tent.
Dan Groff of San Diego, attending the convention, said he saw several "critically injured people" in the area around the huge outdoor tent housing the convention.
"I helped one guy who had a beam fall on him. His knees were buckled under his chest. It just crushed him," Groff said.
He said he checked the man for vital signs but could not detect a pulse as others tried to lift the beam.
Gary Morgan of Vancouver, Wash., was setting up a booth at the retailers convention.
"The building just started to flutter, then it became more intense until the structures were coming down and things were just flying through," Morgan said, adding that at least a dozen people he saw were bleeding.
Robert Stock of Toronto, a sales representative for a rock-climbing company said he saw the roof of the Delta Center lift up when the tornado passed over.
"It peeled it right back, just like an orange peel," he said.
David Gross, an exhibitor form Sudbury, Mass., was inside the Salt Palace, watching the tornado through a door. It resembled billowing black smoke.
"There was lots of thunder and wind. The roof opened and it (the wind) ripped off a door. It was over in 15 or 20 seconds but it seemed like a lot longer than that. Everything was shaking and shaking."
John Dwan, spokesman for University of Utah Medical Center, said they have implemented their "mass casualty plan," something he has never seen. He did not give any word on the total number of casualties.
Jess Gomez, spokesman for LDS Hospital, said lightning struck the hospital, causing them to lose some of their communications. He said all trauma teams have been activated, but could not yet say how many people were injured.
LDS Hospital spokesman Don Woodbury said, "We know there have been serious injuries. The emergency room is very busy and we don't have much more than that."
"We have called for help from other communities. There are two more weather systems coming that could kick up one-inch hail, lightening and 70 mph winds," said Connaughton. "The Utah Highway Patrol is closing all major routes into downtown because of traffic congestions, accidents and and debris."
Crowds gathered on street corners to watch the funnel cloud over the Mormon church's Salt Lake Temple, which was not damaged.
Church spokesman Mike Otterson said two people were injured on a construction project at the church Assembly Hall on Temple Square directly south of the Mormon Tabernacle and a construction crane fell. The famed square was closed.
Heavy hail the size of marbles preceded and followed the tornado.
National Weather Service meteorologist David Hogan said the tornado touched down at the Triad Center and moved southwest over the Delta Center.
Hogan said the tornado was classified as a low-end F2, which has winds of between 110 mph and 150 mph. "We're thinking maybe closer to 100 mph," he said.
"If you compare this to Midwest tornadoes this is pretty weak, but it's strong for Utah," he said. "It couldn't have picked a worse place."
"The chance of it hitting a city right smack where it did today is pretty slim," Hogan said.
The fatalities were the first recorded tornado-related deaths in the history of a state that averages two tornados a year.
The service said that at 12:41 p.m., weather spotters reported a severe thunderstorm with 1 1/2-inch-diameter hail over the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley in the suburb of Herriman.
The storm headed northeast at 20 mph and the weather service reported other strong and possible severe thunderstorms over other parts of the Salt Lake and Davis County to the north.