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Video: Tornado Tears Through Downtown Billings

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – A tornado that ripped the roof off a sports arena in Billings, Mont., Sunday evening also tore apart a casino, bar and laundromat in the city’s downtown area.

The tornado also picked up the roof from an auto glass shop, then dumped it into a nearby creek. Nothing but the walls of the shop could be seen standing.

The tornado struck Sunday at about 5 p.m. as a big storm system with golf ball-sized hail passed through the area, Trooper Toman Baukema of the Montana Highway Patrol said.

After running through downtown’s Main Street, the twister moved toward the 10,000-seat Rimrock Auto Arena in a nearby industrial area, where it snapped nearby trees and telephone poles. Big pieces of metal could be seen hanging from power lines, and tangles of insulation and metal debris were strewn for hundreds of yards in the surrounding area.

Baukema said he saw the tornado hover over the arena for about 15 minutes.

“It would touch down and suck back up and touch down and touch down again,” he said.

There were several employees inside the arena when it struck, but there were no reports of injuries, Baukema said.

Surrounding buildings at the MetraPark expo center, which includes a horse race track and several pavilions, appeared to have suffered little damage. The arena is the event center’s main venue and often hosts rodeos, monster truck shows, concerts and high school graduations.

Crews were working to shut off a gas leak at a commercial strip mall, about a mile away from the arena, Baukema said.

The storm also caused flooding in streets and basements near the arena from heavy rain, Yellowstone County emergency coordinator Duane Winslow said.