Nearly 10 Barns Blasted by Storm at Famed Churchill Downs

By: From CBS News
By: From CBS News

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CBS) — The famed Churchill Downs horse race track, longtime home to the Kentucky Derby, was hit by a possible tornado Wednesday, knocking down parts of barns and chasing out horses that ran loose before being corralled, officials said.

Louisville Police told CBS News earlier that a tornado appeared to have touched down briefly in the infield of their racetrack.

Hours after the storm hit, officials had no reports of injuries to humans or horses at the track on the southwestern side of Louisville. Elsewhere in the city, high water from torrential rains trapped a couple of people in their cars, a mayor's spokesman said, and a hospital reported that it treated two patients hit by falling trees.

The National Weather Service said radar was tracking a confirmed tornado near the track and the University of Louisville campus about 8:10 p.m. Though no races are run on Wednesdays, a simulcast of races elsewhere was being shown in the theater, and a Texas Hold 'em poker tournament was being held, officials said.

The National Weather Service confirmed reports of a tornado in the area, which also struck the University of Louisville campus.

At least nine barns were damaged, as was the chapel. The barn damage was on the backside of the track where workers live in the dorms, said track President Kevin Flanery.

"It's a hell of a mess back here," track spokesman John Asher said of the barn area where the damage was concentrated.

The iconic twin spires above the clubhouse overlooking the finish line were not apparently damaged, Flanery said.

"Clearly we've got several barns with significant damage and we're just trying to make sure people and the animals are safe first," Flanery said.

Some horses had gotten loose for a time, but were later caught, Asher said. At least 1,300 horses were stabled at Churchill, said vice president of racing Donnie Richardson.

Vans were being brought in to move horses out of downpours that fell into the night and from the barns, Asher said. At least one barn was flooded by a water main break and horses were being moved to a safe area. The nearby state fairgrounds and Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington offered stall space if it was needed, he said.

The Kentucky Derby, the first leg of horseracing's Triple Crown, has been run for 136 years at the track. It has a capacity to handle a crowd of some 160,000-plus for the annual spring tradition known as much for its mint juleps and fancy hats as the racing.

The track, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., underwent extensive renovations in 2002 and 2003 totaling more than $200 million. Thursday's racing card was cancelled because of the damage.

In August 2009, a flash flood heavily damaged the Kentucky Derby Museum, situated just off Gate 1 at Churchill Downs. The museum was closed for nine months while it underwent a $5.5 million renovation.

No damage has been reported at the university, which is sparsely populated at this time of year, but power was out around campus, said John Drees, a university spokesman. Widespread reports of damage to buildings all over the Louisville metro area was reported from the storms that continued to move through into the night. The worst appeared to be at Churchill Downs, though, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

Eyewitnesses said they saw about a dozen power poles downed near the track and university. A weather service team will determine whether a tornado or straight line winds did the damage. Some 5,000 customers were without power around the Louisville area.

Storm sirens wailed in Kentucky's largest city as multiple tornado warnings were issued as the storm went through.

"It looks like we dodged what could have been a really bad evening," Poynter said.


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