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The National Weather Service said at least five tornadoes swept through the metro Denver area Sunday afternoon, with one damaging an Aurora mall and a nearby community in southeast Aurora.
The Weather Service said the tornado that damaged Southlands Mall touched down south of Buckley Air Force Base at 1:49 p.m. and may have been on the ground for about 30 minutes, going on an 8- to 10-mile path across southeast Aurora.
The other Colorado tornadoes were reported 6 miles east of Lafayette; one south of Bennett; one south of Deer Trail; and one north of Byers. The tornadoes brought with them heavy winds, a brief downpour of rain and pea-sized to baseball-sized hail.
Shoppers At Southlands Mall Startled
The tornado that caused the most damage and hit the most populous area was in southeast Aurora, near the newly-built Southlands Mall.
The facade of several shops were blown down and patio chairs, benches and umbrellas blown over. 7NEWS reporter Tyler Lopez said the parking lot of the mall was full of cars with broken windows and turned over shopping carts. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning units on the mall roof were damaged. One car was thrown onto its roof.
Battalion Chief Mark Turley told 7NEWS there were no injuries at the mall, although there were a few injuries reported from people who live near the mall.
“It’s amazing that we don’t have any injuries,” Turley said. “Our main concern right now is public safety.”
Xcel Energy worked with firefighters and the mall to shut down natural gas service there after reports of gas leaks.
A spokeswoman for the mall said the shopping stores will be closed until repairs can be made. She did not give an estimate as to when that would be.
“There is some good damage here,” said Aurora police Lt. Sam McGhee.
McGhee said police officers spread out around the mall to look for unreported damage and make sure anyone who needed help could get it.
Julie Patterson, 36, could see the tornado from the back deck of her house in Aurora. “You could see the debris flying in the funnel cloud,” she said.
People inside the Lowe’s hardware store and the movie theater at Southlands Mall said they were alarmed when they heard the sirens go off and then a warning to evacuate.
Residents in Aurora sent in hundreds of pictures of the tornado. Some said they could hear tornado sirens going off as they drove around.
Military men and women who work at Buckley Air Force Base took shelter inside several designated spots on the base when tornado sirens sounded.
The Aurora tornado may likely be graded as an EF1 on the Enhanced Fugita scale because it caused moderate damage, broke glass and windows, pushed some lightweight mobile structures off foundations, and stripped roofs and siding, 7NEWS Meteorologist Mike Nelson said. EF1 tornadoes have wind speeds of 86 to 110 mph.
However, the exact strength of the tornado won’t be known until meteorologists with National Weather Service go in the area Monday to evaluate the damage.
Tornado First Reported In Boulder County
Boulder County was the first to report a tornado, at about 1 p.m.
Eyewitnesses in Lafayette told 7NEWS they saw a small funnel cloud form and then disappear within a few minutes. No injuries were reported in this tornado, either.
Viewers sent in photos of golf-ball sized hail and reported moderate wind damage from the tornado in Boulder County.
The Elbert County Sheriff’s Office said several funnel clouds were spotted by professional weather spotters but none touched down. No major damage or injuries were reported.
The same was true in Adams County, according to the Adams County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Candi Baker.
Many spots in the Denver area also were pelted with hail, some as big as baseballs. The National Weather Service received reports of hail as big as 3 inches across in Arapahoe County, meteorologist Richard Ortner said.
Xcel Energy said the storm blew down power lines, leaving about 3,000 customers in parts of Aurora and Centennial without power for about an hour and 40 minutes before service was restored.