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Tornado touches down near Churchill Downs

A few barns partially collapsed and horses were running loose Wednesday night at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, after a powerful storm that spawned tornadoes blew through Louisville.

Officials had no immediate reports of serious injuries to humans or horses at the track on the southwestern side of Louisville. A mayor's spokesman said a couple people may have been trapped in their cars in high water on the east side of the city.

The National Weather Service said radar was tracking a confirmed tornado near the famed track and the University of Louisville campus about 8:10 p.m. Though no races are run on Wednesdays, there was simulcasting of races elsewhere, so people may have been there, said track President Kevin Flanery.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said at least five barns had roof damage and the chapel was hit. The barn damage was on the backside of the track where workers live in the dorms, Flanery said.

"It's a hell of a mess back here," said John Asher, spokesman for Churchill Downs.

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.

Security guards were turning away reporters, citing danger from the loose horses. Vans were being brought in to move horses out of torrential downpours, and at least one barn was flooded by a water main break, Asher said.

The Kentucky Derby, the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, has been run for more than 130 years at the track. Churchill Downs is in its spring meet, in which racing takes place Thursday through Sunday until July 4.

The 136-year-old track, located in the southwestern part of Louisville, is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. It underwent extensive renovations in 2002 and 2003 totaling more than $200 million. A spokeswoman said today's racing card was canceled.

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 on the university campus, which is sparsely populated at this time of year, said John Drees, a university spokesman. Drees said there were reports of power outages around campus. Dwight Mitchell, spokesman for Louisville police, said two buildings were damaged near the campus, though.

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. More than 7,600 customers were without power in Jefferson County where Louisville is located. The worst damage appeared to be in the Churchill Downs area, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

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