Video by Aurora Day
PORT ORCHARD — Curran Cain, who works at Farmer George Meats on Bethel Avenue, was cleaning the grease traps in the store just before 2 p.m. when he noticed the winds had picked up and were roaring outside.
Trying to open the back door, Cain said he felt as if the wind was trying to suck him up into its grasp.
”It was strong,” the still-shellshocked employee said about 30 minutes after a swiftly moving tornado dangled above his little shop, sweeping eastward across the busy Bethel arterial.
“I looked up and saw branches flying. I then saw it go through the field after crossing the street. It sounded like an earthquake hit. Someone in the shop yelled, ‘Take cover! It’s hitting.’”
He said the tornado was unmistakable. “It was really wide at the top and looked like a waterspout,” Norman said.
The damaging tornado on Tuesday, Dec. 18 — described by eyewitnesses as being several blocks wide — also swirled onto the vast Walmart Superstore parking lot as it bore down on the department store, sending anything loose in its path skyward before moving eastward.
Especially hard-hit was a residential cul de sac behind Walmart — Tiburon Court — where one home’s roof was lifted up by the tornado, sending splintered pieces into the sky. Other homes received severe damage and some had their natural gas pipelines severed by the onslaught.
Kitsap County’s Department of Emergency Management evacuated residents in the Tiburon Court tract due to possible gas leaks.
Commercial buildings lining Bethel were damaged by the freak funnel, which was described by Chad Norman, who also works at Farmer George Meats, as being at least 600 yards wide with a defined tornado outline that veered across the busy roadway in the eastern part of the Parkwood section of the city.
Next door to the meat shop is the venerable Bethel Saloon. Shortly after the tornado struck the location, a Washington State Patrol trooper placed caution tape in front of the business to keep people from entering the area.
An unidentified woman driving a Toyota sedan was slightly injured when her car was lifted by the tornado as she drove on Bethel in front of the meat market. The tornado spun around the car and placed it on its side. The vehicle suffered extensive damage. The woman, Norman said, was able to get out of her car and was assisted by onlookers, who wiped blood from her face.
Additional reports of injuries were not immediately available, although emergency crews later reported they had not encountered any significant injury cases.
Washington State Patrol troopers cordoned off the area with caution tape and warned onlookers of reports of natural gas leaks in the area.
The roof of a home near Rhapsody Drive was lifted by the twister, as shown by helicopter video on KOMO-TV.
A citywide response from units of the Port Orchard Police, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and Washington State Patrol arrived at the scene to cordon off the roadway to traffic — an area ranging from the intersection of Bethel and Lund avenues to Southeast Blueberry Road.
Kirby Cook, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Seattle Times that while thunderstorms are in the weather forecast for the area, the tornadic activity caught them by surprise. Tornado events are fairly rare in the Pacific Northwest, and if they do occur, they are fairly weak and shortlived.
“We were not expecting any to be severe. Certainly this one was,” Cook said.
Resident Skip Olmsted, who lives at 2095 SE Serenade Way, said he was taking a shower when he noticed something odd happening to the water supply.
“I thought that the water tank was going out,” Olmsted said. “Then I saw shadows from things going by from the small window and figured something was going on.”
The resident, whose home incurred severe damage, said he called his wife and told her about the tornado strike.
“I thought she was going to have a heart attack when I called her. It was bad enough then. I don’t know what she’s going to think when she sees this.”
In a region of the country where tornadoes are rare occurrences, to say the least, residents were clearly caught off guard. Adding to what was a potentially catastrophic situation, the tornadic storm was not only swiftly moving, but it generated a funnel in just seconds — allowing no time for a tornado warning to be issued. The tornado reportedly dissipated after causing destruction among the homes behind the large department store.
Kitsap County work crews closed Harris Road Southeast between Southeast Lund Avenue and Southeast Salmonberry Road due to the tornado’s damage. Salmonberry, between Branson Drive Southeast and Harris, has restricted access to the area.