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Eleventh Avenue, a major Regina downtown thoroughfare, which is usually teeming with pedestrians and traffic, was home only to blowing wind and a couple of police vehicles Friday. Heavy winds damaged a section of the SGI building, on the right, leading to an evacuation of the 18-storey tower and closure of the street. ((Courtesy Prairie Dog Magazine))

The downtown Regina offices of SGI, a provincial Crown corporation, were evacuated just before noon Friday amid safety concerns over intense winds.

"It's pretty wild down here," CBC reporter Adam Hunter, who was in the area, said. "The wind is almost blowing me over."

People in the building, which is at the corner of 11th Avenue and Lorne Street, were told to leave mid-morning on Friday and the evacuation was complete about 15 minutes before the lunch hour. About 850 people work in the 18-storey tower.

Officials said that a metal panel at the base of the building's exterior had broken due to strong winds.

They said that led to concerns about glass, because the damaged panel holds the building's glass facade in place.

"The concern was whether that panel, if it pulled right loose, would take the sections all the way going up," Earl Cameron, a vice-president with the corporation explained.

He said it could be likened to a home's exterior siding.

"If one piece comes off, does it take more off?" Cameron said. "That was the concern about safety. Because it would open up the building."

Cameron said a repair would have to wait until the wind subsides. In the meantime, he said a system has been rigged up to hold the broken panel in place.

Police blocked off a number of streets leading to the tower for several hours Friday. By early evening, traffic barricades were removed, and activity was returning to normal.

SGI is also known as the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Corporation. It oversees the province's mandatory automobile insurance system. It also competes for other insurance business, such as fire protection.

History of structural problems

The building that houses SGI's headquarters had recently undergone extensive repairs to address structural issues.

In 2004, SGI announced it would spend $3.9 million to look after what was described as "severe structural deterioration," according to a news release from the government at the time.

The release said water seepage had resulted in corrosion to a key structural component of the building, known as post-tension cables.

"Without these repairs, the structural problems will continue to deteriorate the building," Larry Fogg, the president of SGI at the time, said in the release. Fogg has since retired.

According to the release, the building was constructed in the early 1970s and engineers of the day did not anticipate that water infiltration could affect the building.

Officials were asked about those structural issues Friday.

Cameron said the panel damaged that morning had been part of the 2004 repairs. However he added that the building was structurally safe.

He said the damaged panel only affected the exterior glass system.

The evacuation of the building followed an intense wind storm that had been battering parts of Saskatchewan since early Friday.

Environment Canada was reporting that wind gusts of up to 96 kilometres per hour were slamming Regina.