Softball-sized hail pummeled Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs on Monday afternoon, injuring 14 people and killing two animals.
Five people were hospitalized, and nine were treated at the zoo, said Fire Capt. Brian Vaughan.
A vulture and a duck were killed, and an unknown number of animals were injured, said zoo spokeswoman Jenny Koch. The zoo sustained “extensive property damage” and will be closed Tuesday, Koch said.
Hanover School District 28 also will be closed Tuesday, on what was to have been its first day of school.
At the zoo, about 3,400 people were evacuated and taken in city buses to nearby Cheyenne Mountain High School, which was turned into an American Red Cross shelter, Koch said. At least 300 vehicles in the zoo’s parking lot weren’t driveable, she said.
Hail broke through the glass ceiling in the Scutes Family Gallery, which houses snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises, showering people with hailstones and glass shards, said Danielle Fillis, 47, who was visiting from Aurora.
“It was crazy. The zoo, when we came out of there, literally it looked like a tornado came through,” Fillis said. “There were trees down, the whole walkway was covered in debris and animals were making a lot of noise.”
She and her husband, Alan, 54, had their legs slashed by glass. And their car was totaled.
Brandon Sneide, 28, was in the zoo gift shop with his girlfriend and three children when the storm began.
“It was like a war zone — golf ball- and softball-sized hail just started pounding down, breaking glass all around us,” said Sneide, who serves in the Colorado National Guard and has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“People were running and screaming and crying. There was a lady who was covered in blood. Car alarms were going off. It was traumatic. It sounded like being in a war zone, like being in Iraq. It was scary.”
Adam Rains, 30, said he was driving out of the zoo when the hail hit. He was visiting from out of state for a family reunion.
“After the third or fourth hit to the windshield, we couldn’t see out of it, so we pulled over,” Rains said. They hid under blankets and jackets to avoid the glass and hail after their windshield shattered.
“The kids were crying and praying to help keep their minds off the hailstorm,” he said. “It sounded like gunshots — like someone was shooting your car.”
Flooded roads and large hailstones were reported across El Paso County on Monday, the latest in a recent series of severe storms in the Pikes Peak region.
Power was cut to 1,925 people in north Colorado Springs east of Interstate 25 during the storm, Colorado Springs Utilities’ outage map said.
And Utilities tweeted storm advice: “If your home got hit with baseball-sized #hail this afternoon, remember to have a qualified contractor check your vent cap for damage. Failure to do so could result in #carbonmonoxide readings inside your home. Check your #electric and #gas meters for damage as well.”
Fountain was hit with its third major hailstorm in two months. Hailstones as big as golf balls and baseballs were reported there, said police spokeswoman Lisa Schneider.
“It was another big one,” Schneider said. But as of 5 p.m., she said she wasn’t aware of storm-related injuries in Fountain.
Storm damage also forced closure Tuesday of the county Clerk and Recorder’s Motor Vehicle Branch on Fort Carson, county officials said. All other county motor vehicle offices will have extended hours this week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
At Colorado Springs Airport, where the city’s official rain measurements are made, 0.93 inches of rain were recorded Monday, the National Weather Service in Pueblo reported. In southwest Colorado Springs by The Broadmoor, 1.94 inches fell.
Hailstones up to 3 or 4 inches wide were reported across the county, weather service data show.
Chances of thunderstorms are in the city’s forecast through Friday, the weather service says.
“The important thing to remember is: When you hear thunder, there’s going to be lightning, and where we live, hail is always a real possibility,” Vaughan said. “So seek shelter when you hear that. Seek it immediately, and make sure you warn your loved ones, as well.”
The Gazette’s Jerilee Bennett contributed to this report.