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Tornado dances safely by airport

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 10:03 p.m.

DENVER — Radar indicated a tornado briefly touched down on Tuesday over the east runways of Denver International Airport, where thousands of people took shelter in restrooms, stairwells and other safe spots until the danger passed, officials said.

Airport spokeswoman Laura Coale reported no damage. Nine flights were diverted elsewhere during the tornado warning, which lasted about 40 minutes.

A 97-mph wind gust was measured at the airport before communication with instruments was briefly knocked out, National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said.

Chris Polk, a construction foreman, was working on a renovation project just outside the airport's main concourse when he learned of the tornado warning at 2:15 p.m. Polk said he looked up and saw a funnel cloud. He and his crew ran inside and took shelter with about 100 people, including luggage-toting passengers, inside a basement breakroom as tornado sirens sounded.

“It got pretty crazy around here,” Polk said.

Asked whether he was nervous when he spotted the funnel cloud, he shrugged: “No, I'm from Missouri.”

Everyone inside the breakroom was calm, Polk added.

It wasn't clear how many people were at the airport when a public announcement went out about the tornado warning, but the airport averages about 145,000 passengers over the course of a day, Coale said.

Television coverage showed the airport's normally busy terminal was empty during the warning. Access to a bridge to concourse A was blocked, since the bridge is surrounded by large glass windows.

Scott Morlan said he had dropped his daughter off at the airport and was heading out when he saw an ominous cloud.

“It was just turning. You knew it was thinking about coming down,” he said.

He watched the tip of funnel cloud touch the ground and cross Pena Boulevard, which leads to the airport, before lifting into the sky.

In California, an unattended campfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park has grown into a blaze that has led to the evacuations of 800 homes and 1,500 people, officials said.

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