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Clarice "Hap" Loomis had just left the ice cream stand she has operated near Pioneers Park for 40 years, bound for a dinner break at her home just a few blocks away, when the skies darkened and the winds whipped up.

Back at the C & L Dairy Sweet, her daughter, Chris Kliment, had just thrown a cheeseburger on the grill for some customers parked outside the walk-up business at Coddington Avenue and West Van Dorn Street.

And Kliment's daughter, Tiffany Blackwell, was leaving the business, too, just as a rapidly intensifying supercell thunderstorm reached the western outskirts of the city.

"I was just leaving, and you could faintly hear the sirens," Blackwell said Sunday evening, amid the debris caused by what witnesses described as a tornado.

"I could see the rotation, so I ran down there and I said 'Mom, the sirens are on, get the girls out,'" Blackwell recalled.

Two employees at the store ran across the parking lot to a neighboring home. Blackwell yelled to her mother — still tending the cheeseburger on the grill — to forget it and get to safety.

They followed their employees into a storm cellar just as the apparent twister struck around 6 o'clock, straining to hold the door shut.

"I would be dead if (Tiffany) wouldn't have told us," Kliment said only an hour or so later. She later pulled her ringing cellphone from the pile of what was the iconic ice cream business.

The woman behind C & L Dairy Sweet, 40 seasons of ice cream and going strong

There were no immediate reports of injuries. As of 10 p.m., power was out to 4,000 homes and businesses across the city.

Staff from the National Weather Service in Valley will come to Lincoln on Monday morning to survey the damage, which included the roof to the Harley-Davidson dealership on West O Street, a plane at the Lincoln Airport and part of a car wash on Nebraska 2 between Van Dorn Street and Pioneers Boulevard.

It's too early to say if it was a tornado or strong straight-line winds, said Corey Mead of the Weather Service. But numerous videos and photos shared on social media displayed the rotating updraft associated with the storms as they moved from northwest of Lincoln into the southwest part of the city.

The Weather Service confirmed a tornado touchdown near Malcolm at 5:38 p.m., about the time when sirens sounded in Lincoln, prompting attendees at several events to seek shelter.

A sneak peek at the tigers, giraffes and spider monkeys at Lincoln's Children's Zoo's 10-acre expansion was cut short by the storm.

The invite-only event was winding down when zoo President and CEO John Chapo and his staff ushered the handful of remaining guests to the basement of the administrative building until the all-clear, about 40 minutes later.

At the Lied Center, the Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra show was delayed as the orchestra itself moved to the basement.

Jeff Eick, a driver for Haul Bikes, was sitting in his semi next to Frontier Harley-Davidson when the debris started flying.

"It was crazy," Eick said. "It just ripped the roof right back."

Eick watched as the storm moved south, toward the Dairy Sweet, where customers Jazmin Escobar and her mother, Yecenia, both of Crete — were waiting out the thunderstorm in their Chevy Silverado when the winds hit.

"We saw the big dust," Jazmin Escobar said.

The apparent tornado slid the red pickup 20 feet across the rock driveway where it had been parked. Twisted branches snapped from trees and other debris — rocks, roofing materials and other items — slammed into their vehicle, shattering the windows.

The Escobars ducked as low in the vehicle as they could. They were unharmed, but badly shaken.

Just feet away, the Dairy Sweet was lifted clean from its foundation and flipped upside down. Fixtures from the bathroom topped a pile of jagged wooden frames, refrigerators and ice cream machines. Spoons and cups littered the ground.

Catty-corner at another Lincoln icon, Lee's Chicken, Patrick Lohmeier was standing on a second floor landing on the north side of the building watching the storm roll in and recording the scene on his iPad.

"I watch storms come through here all the time," Lohmeier said. "Everybody was out in the parking lot watching the storm, but I started to see the clouds rotate and it just got wild. Everything happened so fast."

Lohmeier clambered across the roof to the south side to get a better view, but the intensity of the winds convinced him to turn back and seek shelter.

Inside, the winds and changes to the atmospheric pressure caused the windows to shake. Debris — staff are not sure entirely what — broke through several windows on the south side of the packed dining room. The power went out, causing the kitchen to fill with smoke as the vent hoods shut off.

Drake Kann, a grandson of the owners who works behind the bar, said a few customers crawled under tables at the height of the storm, but there were no reports of injuries.

Once it was over and the wait staff ensured everyone was OK, food embedded with shards of glass was replaced, candles were lit to provide enough light for the dinnertime rush, and bills were waived for the evening, said waitress Madelyn Walton.

Outside, however, the Lee's Chicken sign was shredded, unrecognizable, while Pioneer Pete, the restaurant's iconic chicken mascot, remained unharmed, still standing tall over the parking lot.

The storm also threw a mangled john boat into a line of trees on the west side of the building.

No one was sure how far it had traveled to get there.

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Peter Salter and Todd Henrichs contributed to this report.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

City editor

City editor for the Lincoln Journal Star.

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