PORT ORCHARD — A tornado described as being several blocks wide swept from the east across Bethel Avenue in Port Orchard just after 2 p.m. Tuesday, damaging buildings and injuring at least one person.
Commercial buildings lining Bethel were damaged by the freak funnel, which was described by Chad Norman, who works at Farmer George’s Meats, as at least 600 feet wide with a defined tornado outline that veered across the busy roadway in the eastern part of the city.
An unidentified woman driving a Toyota sedan was slightly injured when her car was lifted by the tornado from Bethel Avenue in front of the meat market and spun to 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 Tuesday.
The tornado sent branches flying across a three-block area and tore off fencing at the neighboring Bethel Saloon.
State Patrol troopers cordoned off the area with caution tape and warned onlookers of reports of natural gas leaks in the area.
The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church in Port Orchard to provide a safe place for those affected to gather until it was safe to return home.
Kitsap County’s Department of Emergency Management reported it was evacuating residents in the nearby Tiburon Court tract due to possible gas leaks.
The roof of a home near Rhapsody Drive was lifted by the twister, as shown by helicopter video on KOMO-TV.
“It was really wide at the top and looked like a waterspout,” Norman said.
Another meat shop employee, Curran Cain, said he was cleaning in the back when the wind started to pick up.
“I tried to open the back door and felt it sucking me up,” Cain said shortly after the tornado hit the area.
“It was strong. 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.’ ”
A citywide dispatch from Port Orchard Police, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and State Patrol cordoned off the roadway to traffic from the intersection of Bethel and Lund avenues to Southeast Blueberry Road.
Kirby Cook, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told The Seattle Times that while thunderstorms were in the weather forecast for the area, the tornadic activity caught forecasters by surprise.
Tornado events are rare in the Pacific Northwest, and if they do occur, they are generally weak and short lived.
“We were not expecting any to be severe. Certainly this one was,” Cook said.
Bob Smith is editor of the Port Orchard Independent, a Sound Publishing Inc., newspaper.