‘We were very lucky’: Pittsburgh Zoo operations nearly normal days after being hit by tornado

PITTSBURGH — Operations at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium are pretty much back to normal after a tornado tore through the area on Friday. Some damage happened outside the zoo to a car that was in the parking lot.

Channel 11 also learned the zoo does regular drills for severe weather events, and it was a good thing many of the animals were already inside for the day.

“It looked like a Florida hurricane,” said Dr. Jeremy Woodman, Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium president and CEO. “Then I look up, and I see a big funnel cloud.”

Goodman said around 4:45 p.m. on Friday he looked out of his office window and saw the trees bending.

“You could see for blocks all the debris circling around the funnel cloud,” Goodman said. “It was very impressive.”

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-0 tornado, which became an EF-1 when it hit the zoo, with 105-mile-per-hour winds, hit this area on Friday.

>>> Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium assessing damage after EF-1 tornado touched down in Highland Park

“It came up through the Islands portion of the Zoo so that’s where you’d find the tortoises, siamangs and the pathway down the hill toward what would be Allegheny River Boulevard and Washington Boulevard,” said Alex Cauley, Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium public relations and media manger.

It tore down a fence in the zoo and knocked over a large tree blocking the entrance to the Tropical Forest complex.

“We drill for this regularly,” Goodman said. “Severe weather emergency drills. Escape animal drills. Things along those lines. Practice pays off because there was nobody harmed on staff, visitors or animals. We were very lucky.”

Because it was close to closing time for the zoo, most of the animals were already inside, but zookeepers still needed to call some of them inside.

“We quickly pulled our gorillas in which was a good thing because we had a lot of damage that could have led to potential escape routes had they not been pulled in,” Goodman said. “We checked all of our dangerous animals and made sure they were all in. We only had a few minutes. But like I said it was towards the end of the day, many of them were already in, eating their dinner so again we were very lucky in that regard.”

The fence around the tortoise exhibit hasn’t been repaired yet. That’s the only exhibit guests won’t be able to check out.

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