“Church Headquarters Sustains Minor Tornado Damage,” Ensign, Oct. 1999, 78
Tornadoes are rare in Utah, but on Wednesday, 11 August 1999, a tornado sliced into downtown Salt Lake City, destroying a large commercial exhibition tent, killing one man and injuring many others, and doing major damage to a downtown hotel and to dozens of homes in the northern part of the city. While the storm’s path took it across the Church headquarters area, only minor damage was sustained.
Rated F2 on a scale of 5 with winds between 113 and 157 mph, the tornado touched down about one mile southwest of the Salt Lake Temple and LDS Church headquarters. Cutting a swath about three miles long, the storm damaged several smaller structures before hitting the Delta Center, the Wyndham Hotel, and a tent where workers were preparing for a retailers convention two blocks southwest of Temple Square. A Las Vegas man setting up for the exhibition was struck by debris and killed.
The tornado’s center passed north and west of Temple Square but slammed into the construction site of the newly named Conference Center across the street and snapped a 200-foot crane, which fell onto the structure. The storm then ripped huge old trees from the grounds of the State Capitol and Memory Grove, a park in City Creek Canyon, continuing its northeastern path into a residential area known as the Avenues before lifting off the ground. Some 300 homes were damaged, about 40 of those left uninhabitable. More than 150 people were injured, with about 50 being treated at local hospitals. Many of the injured were Latter-day Saints.
Due to the interest of many members Churchwide, following is a summary of damage to Church headquarters:
Temple Square: closed for two days; several trees were downed; no damage to the Salt Lake Temple, which remained open for scheduled weddings; North Visitors’ Center sustained damage to several glass windows, including the window in front of the Christus statue; minor damage to the southwest corner of the Assembly Hall from falling trees.
New Conference Center: primary damage came from the fallen crane and included minor damage to the stone on the building. Scaffolding was torn away, but only two of the nearly 1,000 workers were injured. “I don’t expect any appreciable delays,” said building architect Kerry B. Nielsen two days after the tornado. He indicated that all of the damage should be repairable.
Church Office Building block: one broken window and minor damage to the roof of the west wing of the Church Office Building; no damage to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Church Administration Building, or Relief Society Building.
Family History Library and Museum of Church History and Art: without power for more than 24 hours; damage to vents on the roof.
Parking lots: trees and power lines down; water lines broken; many parked cars lost windows.
Residential damage: primarily within the Salt Lake Ensign Stake, but no one was injured. A member of the stake presidency arrived at the scene about 30 minutes after the tornado and reported that there were already from 400 to 600 people clearing debris and searching for injured victims. They showed up spontaneously and began working. Several homes lost their roofs.
Chain saws buzzed that night until 10:00 P.M. as workers cut fallen trees into pieces. “There was an incredible outpouring of help,” said Gayle Walker of the Ensign First Ward. “There were pockets of people going door to door cleaning up glass and debris. It’s amazing what the youth did, especially hauling away tree branches. Ironically, that weekend was our youth conference, and the theme was service. The conference was canceled, but the youth learned about service firsthand.”