Aumsville residents pick up the pieces after tornado rakes town

Aumsville residents pick up the pieces after tornado rakes town

AUMSVILLE, Ore. (AP) – At least 10 families were homeless after a rare tornado ripped through a small Oregon town, tearing roofs off buildings and toppling trees.

Amazingly, no one was seriously injured.

The home belonging to Lisa Wall and her husband was damaged Tuesday when the tornado tore through Aumsville.

"I thought it was just thunderstorms and hail until I saw somewhere over there, their roof came off," she said. "Then all these boards came flying."

Wall took cover on the floor in her kitchen as wind and hail pounded her home, punching a hole in her attic and breaking two windows.

But she was lucky. Her home is livable, unlike the two on either side of her, which both had their roofs torn off. One was lifted from its foundation.

The storm damaged 50 homes; all but 10 of them are still suitable for living, said Don Thomson, a spokesman for the Marion County sheriff's office. Damage was visible to a handful of businesses, including a downtown plumbing store that was leveled. (See photos posted Wednesday.)

No dollar damage estimate was immediately available, Thomson said Tuesday night.

Mayor Harold White reported just two minor injuries, one man with a bump on his head and another with scrapes on his hands.

"We have great people in town, and if a tornado damages our town we're going to fix it," White said.

The town of about 3,500 is 50 miles south of Portland.

Ryan Cates got a hard lesson in home ownership. The 24-year-old had bought his first home just a few months before the tornado uprooted a 40-foot tree and sent it onto his home, crushing a covered patio and poking a hole in his roof.

"It's a mess, but it could've been worse," he said.

Near Main Street, dazed residents emerged minutes after the storm to inspect the damage to their houses and check on their neighbors. Within hours, windows were boarded up and tarps nailed to roofs to protect homes from the elements.

Police and firefighters warned people to stay away from hanging power lines as crews worked to restore electricity. About 5,700 people lost power in the storm, said Jan Mitchell, spokesman for Pacific Power.

The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down shortly before noon Tuesday with winds between 110 and 120 miles per hour.

Steven Worden, 56, was cutting a customer's hair when the wind tore off the roof of his barber shop. He pushed aside cinder blocks that fell from above his head as he and his customers scrambled for safety.

"I thought it was the end," Worden said.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the state will provide help to the city and county. He said residents in other parts of the state should consider contributing to Aumsville families.

"This is going to be a tough Christmas for the people in Aumsville," Kulongoski said.

Tornadoes in Oregon are rare. Tuesday's twister was the first to touch down in the state since Dec. 9, 2009, when a tornado hit Lincoln County near the coast, according to a list from the National Weather Service. Eleven homes and three cars were damaged there, but no one was hurt.

It was one of four Oregon tornadoes in the past decade, all causing only property damage, the weather service said.

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 causing $3 million in damage in the Vancouver, Wash., area.

In a news conference Wednesday, Aumsville City Administrator Maryann Hills laid out the city's efforts for recovery:

  • Inmate work crews from the Marion County Jail are in the area assisting with the clearing of streets and public areas.  Roads will be reopened as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • City of Aumsville Public Works is placing dumpsters throughout the City to assist with cleanup. The dumpsters may be moved to accommodate needs, but will generally be located in the area of Cleveland Street.
  • Volunteers are being assembled and coordinated at the Bethel Baptist Church, (503) 749-2128.
  • The Red Cross is going through areas that were damaged to offer assistance and support to victims.
  • Damage Assessment Teams are currently conducting damage assessments.
  • A brochure has been developed and will be distributed to victims who sustained property damage that will provide them with information about accessing services.
  • A hot line has been established by the City of Aumsville to assist those affected by the tornado to in connecting with resources and to provide general information.  That number is (503) 749-2189 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and (503) 749-2188 during all other hours.
  • Power has been restored and utilities are continuing to check their respective conduits to ensure they are operating properly
  • The City of Aumsville is updating its website to "contain the most current information on the tornado and ongoing recovery activities," city officials report.
  • Residents will notice the continued presence of law enforcement personnel throughout the City in vehicles, on foot and on horses. This effort included deputies on loan from the Marion County Sheriff's Office, and is intended "to maximize the safety and security of everybody in the area until damaged can be further assessed and addressed."
  • Anyone wishing to make a cash donation to the victims of the tornado can do so at the Riverview Community Bank, P.O. Box 350, Aumsville. Specify that the donation is for "tornado relief."  The bank can be contacted at (503) 749-1200.