AUMSVILLE, Ore. - A rare tornado struck the small town of Aumsville on Tuesday, tearing roofs off buildings, hurling objects into vehicles and homes and uprooting trees.
No one was injured but the destruction left behind was severe. The heaviest damage was in the central part of the town. Aumsville is located outside of Salem and around 3,500 people live there.
The National Weather Service has classified the Aumsville tornado as an EF2 with wind speeds of 110-120 mph and they said the tornado's damage trail was five miles long and 150 yards wide. They also reported that the tornado was not on the ground continuously, but lifted up and touched back down.
Late Tuesday, the Marion County Sheriff's Office reported that they had conducted a count of residences that were damaged by the tornado. They said 50 houses in Aumsville and the surrounding county area were affected, with 10 of them being unsuitable for occupancy. They will be tallying the businesses that were damaged on Wednesday.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski arrived in Aumsville early Tuesday afternoon to inspect the damage and help decide what the state will do to help the town's residents recover.
Note: Those who do not live in the area are asked to stay away so emergency crews can do their work and help the residents of Aumsville. Sightseers risk fines or arrest for interfering with recovery efforts.
Multiple witnesses said the tornado was preceded by heavy rain and hail. They said that as the storm hit, power lines arced and lights flickered. Then the storm bowled through the town in a matter of seconds.
Some homes and businesses had heavy damage while others were untouched. The T.G. Nichols Plumbing business was hit hard and one home was severely damaged by a tree uprooted by the wind. Another residence was off its foundation. Other homes had lesser damage, including damaged roofs, blown down trees and broken windows. A tall water tower in the middle of the town was still standing.
- "I thought it was the end," Resident Steven Worden, 56, said. He was cutting a customer's hair at his barber shop when the roof suddenly blew off.
- Juanita Nichol was working at T.G. Nichol Plumbing Inc. on Tuesday morning when she left to have work done on her car. Ten minutes later, a funnel cloud darkened the sky and the storm tore down the front wall of the plumbing store, ripped off the roof and destroyed part of another wall. "Think how God and his perfect timing took me away from that building," Nichol said.
- "We saw a trampoline fly over a church. It was like the Wizard of Oz," said Gara Adams, who works at Neufeldt's Restaurant on Main Street.
- "There's maybe a quarter of the building left," MaryAnn Hills, Aumsville's City Administrator, said. "Most of it ended up on the house next door."
- "I was freaking out," resident Justin Profitt, 22, said. "I have lived in Oregon all my life and I never thought I would actually see a tornado."
- "When I heard it coming over the house, I thought the house was going to come down," resident Joshua Farrer, 34, said.
- Resident Marilyn Ridgeway said she felt her home "lift up" and family members ran for shelter in the bathroom. "It was like a freight train coming through the house," she said. "It was crazy."
- "I stood out here and a piece of metal and a piece of fence came at me at about 200 miles per hour, so I thought I better go hide," Walter Sacha said. "My buddy was already hiding. He's from New Mexico."
- "What all Oregonians should do now is reach out and see what they can do to help the people here," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said, "because this is going to be a tough Christmas for the people in Aumsville."
- In their own words - residents describe what happened
- 'I was trying to decide whether to watch or run'
- '...all the windows are blown out'
- Two-by-four narrowly misses a newborn and her mother
- Plumbing business destroyed
- Tornado tears through mobile home park
- More witness accounts
Reporter Dave Walker with KATU's sister station in Eugene, KVAL News, said one man reported seeing a large metal roof fly by at a high speed, along with other debris. Other reports indicated that windows were broken over a large area and a large pole barn had been completely demolished.
Also, the communications tower atop the fire department is "gone" according to a man who talked to KATU News by phone. He added that a large building at his location was "flattened" and several homes were also damaged.
Power and Gas
At one time more than 5,000 customers in the area were without power after a 69,000 volt power line went down, along with many poles and residential power lines. The communities affected were Aumsville, Scio, Lyons, Stayton, Turner, Gates and Mill City. By late in the evening, power had been restored to everyone. More than three dozen Pacific Power workers were on the scene.
A spokesperson for natural gas utility Northwest Natural said they had a crew in the town inspecting gas lines and shutting some off. She said that if people smell gas they should leave the area or building and call 9-1-1 to alert crews to the leak.
For Those Who Need Assistance
The Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Mountain View Wesleyan Church at 111 Main Street. Volunteers are delivering supplies, including food and beverages. Displaced families will also receive a debit card they can spend on clothing, food and specific needs, such as prescriptions.
Residents who need help with cleanup or supplies can call the city during normal business hours at (503) 749-2030.
The Bethel Baptist Church at 645 Cleveland Street is being used as a command center for city officials and they are also coordinating volunteer efforts. People wishing to donate or volunteer to help can call the church at (503) 749-2128 to be put on a list.
How Often Does Oregon Get a Tornado?
The tornado in Aumsville was one of four Oregon tornadoes in the past decade and the first tornado to touch down in Oregon since Dec. 9, 2009, when a twister hit Lincoln County near the coast, according to a list by the National Weather Service. Eleven homes and three cars were damaged in that weather event. There were no injuries.
In the 1990s, at least 16 tornadoes touched down, most causing minor damage. No people were injured, but six calves were killed at a dairy near Newberg in December 1993. On April 5, 1972, a tornado that started in Portland crossed the Columbia River and killed six people, injured about 300 more and caused $3 million in damage in the Vancouver area.
In 2008, an EF1 tornado across the river in East Clark County touched down, destroying a rowing club, toppling a semi and ripping up rooftops.
The National Weather Service has a complete list of tornadoes that have been confirmed in our area over the years. Their list dates all the way back to 1887.