PORT ORCHARD — Curran Cain was cleaning the grease traps at Farmer George Meats on Bethel Avenue just before 2 p.m. Tuesday 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.
A National Weather Service survey team confirmed Wednesday that the rare twister that touched down just south of the city was an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with top wind speeds of up to 130 mph.
The scale rates an EF-2 as “significant,” and the National Weather Service said the tornado was the strongest to hit the state since 1986.
The damaging twister — said by the Weather Service to be 250-300 yards wide on a path 1.4 miles long — also swirled onto the Walmart Superstore parking lot, 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.
The American Red Cross was on the ground providing shelter, food and comfort to people who have been impacted, according to a Wednesday press release
A Red Cross emergency shelter was open at St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church.
Broken gas lines following the damage prompted the Department of Emergency Management on Wednesday to issue a warning advising anyone in the affected area to call 9-1-1 if they detect the odor of natural gas.
The warning said damage assessment crews working along Harris Road SE and other ancillary roads nearby discovered multiple natural gas leaks coming from structures they inspected.
Commercial buildings lining Bethel were damaged by the freak funnel, which was described by Chad Norman, who also works at Farmer George Meats, as having a defined tornado outline as it 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 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 the car around 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.
Emergency crews reported they had not encountered any significant injuries.
A citywide response from units of the Port Orchard Police, South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and 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 were 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 short lived.
“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, residents were clearly caught off guard.
Adding to what was a potentially catastrophic situation, the tornado was not only fast 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 Walmart.
Bob Smith is editor of the Port Orchard Independent, a Sound Publishing Inc., newspaper.