Destructive tornado tears through Aumsville

Credit: DeLetta Fuller

Damage in Aumsville after tornado on 12/14/10.

Print
Email
|

by Teresa Blackman, Michael Rollins & Dave Krough, kgw.com Staff

kgw.com

December 14, 2010

AUMSVILLE, Ore. -- Residents and volunteers assessed the damage and began to clean up the morning after an EF2 tornado tore through the small town of Aumsville. The tornado struck just before noon Tuesday, leaving a path of destruction that splintered store fronts, ripped homes off their foundations and toppled trees.

Ten familes were displaced from their homes and 50 homes and multiple other structures were damaged and about 30 large trees uprooted  but, amazingly, there were no serious injuries or deaths.

SLIDESHOW: Tornado damagesubmit photos

AERIAL VIDEO: Tornado Damage

The National Weather Service classification as an EF2 meant the tornado packed winds between 110-120 m.p.h.

Authorities were urging people to stay clear of the area so they could continue to assess the full extent of the damage to the town of 3,600 just east of Salem.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Path of Tornado

DOPPLER RADAR: Watch Tornado path

Mayor Harold White said one man had a bump on his head and another had scratches. No damage estimates were immediately available, officials said at a news conference Tuesday evening.

Witnesses described the tornado as a "black funnel cloud" that touched down near Aumsville's Main Street, destroying homes, causing car crashes, ripping out power lines, and flattening the police chief's office.

YOUR TURN: Describe your storm experience

"It literally came at an angle and just dropped down. The winds were so fast. My windows are shattered and I have glass all over in my house," Aumsville resident Vince Catron told KGW. "It looks like somebody just came through our house and just shook literally everything in it ... We have houses all around us destroyed."

AUDIO: Eyewitness Vince Catron

Catron said the tornado was on ground for maybe 30 seconds before vanishing.

"Oh my gosh there's a house, my next door neighbors house is completely off its foundation," Catron said. "My house is destroyed, I have two by fours going through my truck, my mother's house next store, her roof is torn off ... we've got downed power lines, trees."

AUDIO: Eyewitness James Wright

City Administrator Marianne Hills said the town was moving from emergency services to operations work and that clean-up was "progressing well."

"The community spirit remains high," Hills said, noting many instances of neighbors helping neighbors and donations of cash and food coming in from around the state. More: City cleans up

Fire Chief Tim Sphoon said there was some damage to the fire station, but nothing that would affect their operations.

"We seem to be holding together pretty well," Asst. fire chief Alan Hume said.

Hume described the town as a "close, tight knit, classic rural town where everybody knows everybody."

"It will recover and recover well," Hume predicted, adding that shelters were open and the next step was assessing damage before neighbors could get back home and start rebuilding.

More: Emergency shelters set up for storm victims

More: Red Cross opens shelter in Aumsville

More: Homeowners warned of  repair scams

Governor Kulongoski toured the damage Tuesday afternoon and reached out to the victims.

"The tragedy is not just the physical damage here, but it's also the Christmas season," he said.  "This community's going to need some help to get their community rebuilt."

Stephanie McCully of Aumsville told KGW she was in the bathroom of her home and heard a loud clattering on the window, then the lights started to flicker. She peeked out the blinds and saw the tornado. It was as tall as a big church, she said.

She ran through her home and into a closet. The tornado missed her home. She went outside and in her yard, the tornado had dumped what looked like the remnants of someone else's home.

Residents narrowly escape injury

Steve Ward was cutting hair in his barbershop on Main street when the tornado ripped the roof off. He and his customer ducked for cover and amazingly were not hurt. MoreClose shave for town barber.

Juanita Nichol is often called the 'grandmother of Aumsville. She is a fixture for locals, seated daily at the front window of the business she's been running for the past 50 years, Nichol's Plumbing. So townfolk feared the worst when the plumbing business was toppled by Tuesday's tornado. But Juanita had left the building just 20 minutes before the devastating winds arrived, and she thanked God for sparing her. More: Town icon barely misses tornado

Outside of town, tragedy and irony mixed at the farm of Phyllis Hendricks. Two barns were shredded by the storm but the family home was unscathed. Hendricks, whose lived at the farm for 30 years, was not at home during the height of the storm because she was attending her brother's funeral. More: Farm savaged by storm

Tornado tore up heart of Aumsville

Much of the tornado damage occurred in the heart of the small town. Aumsville city clerk Colleen Rogers saw it all.

"It was such a crazy moment, I was just looking up through the front windows, the trees were bending and it was more of a swirl ... it just dawned on me that it was a tornado and it was about to hit," Rogers said. "Probably about the point we saw the roof come off the plumbing building we heard the roar."

"It skipped the deli and went across Main Street and flattened Nichols Plumbing and went down to City Hall," witness James Wright said.

"We have major damage," Marion Hill with the City of Aumsville added. "I started seeing the debris. We all got under our desks, we heard it get kind of quiet and got up and looked and saw the debris from the plumbing company."

Doppler radar captures tornado

KGW's Doppler radar showed a large storm cell and a severe thunderstorm in the area which was capable of producing winds in excess of 60 mph, according to KGW meteorologist Nick Allard.

More: Track storm on Doppler Radar

The National Weather Service initially issued a Tornado Warning and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, but both were lifted at 12:30 p.m.

Storm moves forward with high winds

High winds and hail continued to move through Clackamas and Marion counties.

Shelly Nealon said the powerful wind slammed her home in Silverton. She said her home has many windows and she could see a huge, black cloud coming, which enveloped her home and hail started falling, too.

"I was scared to death," Nealon said. "I grabbed my dog and we went under the stairs. It reminded me of growing up in Nebraska."

As quickly as it  arrived, the wind and hail left. As she described what happened, she said the sun had come out and the there was absolutely no wind.

More: Hail causes car wrecks

Drivers who avoided the tornado's path were instead hit by hail.  In Turner and along I-5 near Salem, there were several crashes blamed on the wild storm conditions.

Widespread power outages

Jan Mitchell of Pacific Power & Light said about 5,700 customers were without power in Aumsville, Scio, Lyons and Stayton. She cautioned everyone to stay away from any downed lines. They all should be considered energized.

A number of poles and wires were down in many areas and PP&L crews were being dispatched from Salem, Corvallis and Portland, Mitchell said.

More: What to do if you're in a tornado

Print
Email
|