Heavy Wind Damages Homes in Colorado Plains Town

May 24, 2006

Powerful thunderstorms swept across eastern Colorado on Monday, spawning high winds that damaged at least two homes in the tiny plains town and lightning that sparked several small fires.

No major injuries were immediately reported in the town 20 miles east of Colorado Springs, said El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Clif Northam. The damage included a mobile home that was nearly destroyed and a house that had part of a roof blown into it, he said.

Several outbuildings, including barns and sheds, were damaged and power poles were blown over, knocking out power to hundreds of residents in the area, Northam said.

Connie Beatty had just returned from the grocery store when she and her husband, Red, saw the storm coming in fast. They had no warning and no time to hide before howling winds crushed the south side of their ranch house.

“My husband said ‘I better put the car in the garage, just in case,'” Beatty said in a phone interview as her husband worked with rescue teams outside. “A minute later, the hail started and I said, ‘Here comes the wind’ … We had no warning.”

Violent storms were reported along more than 100 miles of the Rockies’ eastern slopes, from Larimer County south to El Paso County. In Evergreen, just west of Denver, lightning struck a recreation center and started a fire.

The building was evacuated and no one was injured, said Beth Morrison, an employee with a larger recreation center in the town in the foothills west of Denver.

“It was a one-time hit on the roof. It did ignite,” she said. Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze about a half-hour after it started, Evergreen Fire Chief Joel Janov said.

The National Weather Service said a trained observer spotted a tornado six miles north of Ellicott about 4 p.m. Monday, but fire officials on the scene said it appeared the damage came from high winds, Northam said. He said witnesses reported seeing funnel clouds in the sky, but it could not be immediately confirmed whether any touched down. Residents said there was little doubt about the fury of the storm, which the weather service said packed sustained winds of about 64 mph at Bullseye Airport southwest of Ellicott.

Debbie McCammond didn’t know the storm had struck a house about a half-mile from her home.

“The wind started, we got the real bad gust of wind, the hail started, then it calmed down,” McCammond said. “That’s when I ran out to get the rest of my clothes off the line. Then I just saw it coming across the pasture. It was a wall of water. It took out a tree, the roof off my shed.

“We had lots of warning, but I live in a doublewide. I figure it’s going to get me one way or another.”

The Beattys didn’t have time to take shelter and in seconds, one end of their home collapsed, crushing a spare bedroom and a bathroom. No one was hurt, but Connie Beatty’s voice shook with emotion as she spoke about the incident.

The Beatty’s horse, a 9-year-old female named Classy, jumped a fence in a panic and suffered cuts and bruises, but seemed otherwise unharmed, she said.

“We were mostly just worried about our animals,” Beatty said.

Beatty said firefighters were still evaluating the damage, but she was hopeful she and her husband could stay in it.

Firefighters responding to reports of at least three wildfires sparked by lightning strikes said those fires were quickly extinguished, Northam said.

Ellicott was hit by a tornado in May 2001 that injured 18 people, destroyed nine trailers and Ellicott High School.

The National Weather Service will survey the damage in and near the tiny plains town of Ellicott to determine whether it was strong wind or a tornado that damaged the two homes and several barns and sheds.

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