Campbell and Converse counties in northeast Wyoming scrambled Friday in response to a tornado that tore through the North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, reportedly tossing vehicles, flipping trains and destroying a building.
The tornado injured eight people after it touched down south of Wright, Wyoming about 6 p.m., Leslie Perkins, Campbell County public information officer, said in a press release four hours after the event.
Six of the injured people were transported to Campbell County Health; one was taken to a hospital in Douglas, Wyoming. The remaining person refused services, the statement says, adding that personnel did not classify the injuries as immediately life threatening.
By 10 p.m. there were still 10 Campbell County Fire Department units, six sheriff’s deputies and three ambulances on scene, wrote Perkins. Employees who have been accounted for have been taken to Gillette via Campbell County School District buses. There are efforts underway to transport employees who live in Casper or Douglas also, the release says.
At 10:30 Perkins dispatched another statement saying all staff had been accounted for.
Earlier Friday Evening…
While he hadn’t heard any specific information about the condition of workers at the world’s largest open-pit coal mine moments after the tornado hit, “We’re treating this as a mass-casualty event until we know better,” said David King, emergency management coordinator for Campbell County.
Talking to Cowboy State Daily while driving his mobile command unit to the mine about 60 miles south of Gillette, which straddles Converse and Campbell counties, King said responders are converging on the site.
The first calls about the tornado came in at 6:07 p.m., he said.
The mine “took a pretty much direct hit, it sounds like,” he said. “They had one building that took a hit with people in it.”
King said he’d be surprised if people weren’t hurt by the tornado.
“We’re just assuming they are, because you can’t have something like this without some (casualties),” he said.
Brad Walton, a storm chaser, posted a video of the tornado on Twitter. It shows a huge storm cell that goes all the way to the ground beyond the horizon.
“We have what appears to be a massive tornado right here,” he says on the video. “Holy smokes.”
Talking to someone off-camera, Walton says he’s a storm chaser.
“Look at how fast that’s moving,” he says. “There’s no way that’s not a tornado.”
A Nasty Storm Pattern
King said the tornado came from a storm cell he’d been tracking for awhile.
“We’ve been watching the same cell, and it’s dropped a couple tornadoes south of Natrona County and near the Teapot Rock,” he said. “We were advised that this was an ugly storm.”
Emergency band radio traffic reports that a number of buses are being brought to the mine to help transport those who may have been hurt and that an air ambulance has been mobilized.
How much damage and whether anyone is buried under debris from the collapsed building wasn’t immediately known.