CLARK COUNTY - A rare tornado swept through Clark County on Thursday, downing power lines, uprooting trees, tossing pieces of homes and buildings around and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
"We saw the tornado on the radar ... and issued a tornado warning," said Steve Todd, Chief Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Portland. "About the time we were issuing it, we got a report over there from the emergency management folks that they had gotten a touchdown and some damage."
The calls and e-mails began pouring in to KATU News around 12:30 p.m.
"We're right off of Hazel Dell Avenue and it started off with a couple of clashes of lightning and thunder," said Chad Kent. "We went to the window to check out the sheets of rain coming down. Soon after, we had branches flying literally straight at our second story window from trees that were easily a thousand feet away. The wind was incredible. My hand was up against the glass and it felt like it should have shattered on me."
"I live just north of St. Johns at 78th Street at a wetlands and the hail and the thunder was just intense," said Tammy Rhodes. "I grabbed my video camera and I actually videotaped the water in the wetlands swirling. And I saw billboards flying and the hail was just intense."
"And then the lightning hit and the thunder just shook the windows," said Hazel Dell resident Marlene Kazonlus. "And it turned real dark and the wind was going like 60 to the east and on the other side of the house to the west. I was running back and forth trying to figure out what was happening. And then it was just like they say, a freight train."
"It was terrible," another Hazel Dell resident said. "I was so frightened. I went down to the basement because I started seeing things flying and I was really, really scared."
Vancouver Lake was hit hard as well. Members of the Vancouver Lake Crew Club, which lost their training building and equipment when the tornado struck, spent an emotional afternoon surveying the debris and trying to clean up the massive mess that was left behind.
The crew club's coach, Bill Kalenius, said the scene was overwhelming and the scope of the damage has not really sunk in.
"It's like a bad dream," he said. "But my heart goes out to the people in New Orleans because this is what happened to them and those were their homes. This was just a rowing club."
Kalenius said the club started about seven years ago and now they will have to start all over again from the ground up. He said out of the 50 or so boats they had, only two or three are left.
At Olson Trucking on Northeast 78th, the roof of the building was torn apart and thrown out onto the lawn.
"The building started shaking and debris was flying," said Lana Sandoval, who works in the office at Olson Trucking. "Me and the office manager went ahead and went under a desk."
Many of the truckers who work there returned to the office in the evening to find their personal rigs badly damaged.
The high winds that swooped down on the area were accompanied by some serious hail as well. Just take a look at this video sent in by a YouNews contributor in Hazel Dell:
Despite the widespread damage, Jim Flaherty, spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department, said there were no reports of injuries. "It looks like we came through this pretty good," he said.
The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF-1 with winds between 90 and 110 mph. The funnel was 1/4-mile wide and moved across a two-mile path starting at Vancouver Lake and up into Hazel Dell.
According to Scott Sistek with our affiliate in Seattle, Vancouver is the site of the only deadly tornado ever to strike either Washington or Oregon. Six people died and 300 were injured on April 5, 1972 when a tornado moved through the city.
Also, both Washington and Oregon average about one tornado a year each. For Washington, 2007 was the first time since 2002 that no tornado was reported in the state.
This is only the third time since 1950 that a tornado was recorded in Washington state in January. A tornado touched down near Dayton, Wash. on Jan. 16, 2000. That caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. Another tornado touched down in a rural area several miles southeast of Olympia on Jan. 28, 2006, but didn't cause any damage.
E-MAILS FROM KATU VIEWERS
Note: The following comments sent in by our viewers have not been edited for spelling or grammar.
Sparks fly as lightning strikes next door to Prairie High School in Vancouver, WA. "It sounded like a building collapsed" speaks one student in Mr. Bell's 5th period computer class. Multiple students claim to have seen sparks fly form computer equipment during the first strike. After the second strike, hail 2cm in diameter falls. Now at 12:29 PM the wind is blowing the hail sideways at the buildings as thunderclap after thunderclap is heard. - Amanda Merrill
We were at Izzy's when it hit. Very black clouds to the West, then the wind hit. Lots of flying roof material. The building to the east of Izzy's had one-half of its metal roof rolled up and torn off. Many trees blown down, one just missing a trailer house. Lots of power out in the 78th street area. We saw the small funnel cloud on the street for about 30 seconds. - Jerry & Becky Uhlig
Myself and three of my colleagues were at the Baja Fresh at 78th and Highway 99 in Hazel Dell just when it started. There was lightning in the northern sky as we drove up I-5 from the port, then hail when we parked at Baja. The temperature dropped considerably. We get inside and the winds start blowing and just start increasing in intensity. The hanging traffic signs on the traffic lights are spinning (SPINNING) on their cables and all sorts of debris is blowing about. I went outside (I lived in South Dakota for six years) and the clouds just went white. Ran back inside and told everyone to get away from the windows. Then the power fluctuates, goes out, comes back on, then out for good. Traffic lights and power in surrounding businesses for at least two blocks in every direction went out as well. Then, after about 5 minutes, everything was calm again. Dakota-flashback! Incredible!!! - Matthew J. Oftedahl
Thunder was so loud i thought there was an accident . the clouds were low andi saw a bunch of spinning little clouds no funnels and i saw the out clouds going slow and the inner clouds the low black ones spinning fast . lasted 3 mins and passed rain alot. - sam
I was eating lunch at Baja Fresh on the corner of 78th and Hwy. 99 in Hazel Dell when all of a sudden the lights went out. The wind picked suddenly, then the front doors of Baja Fresh opened on their own and a planter that was inside the front doors was pulled outside and then I noticed a column of wind that looked to be 100 feet across and approximately 100 feet or so tall that was blowing leaves and trash all over the place. It seemed to last for about 45 seconds then it was gone. All the traffic signals were out in the intersection so traffic was starting to back up in all directions. There were fire trucks and police cars heading in every direction. - Scott Peterson
We literally had the tornado go over our car! A bolt of lightening struck about 10 feet from where we were sitting - you could smell it. - RobynI was at Club Green Meadows (72nd Ave. and 78th St.) and the trees and rain were literally sideways and I remember commenting that it looked like a hurricane just blew in. I’ve never seen rain fall that hard and I lived in an area of the country where monsoon weather was common.
Yes, there was a torndao!! It was about 12:20 pm when Robyn Arden and I left the office for a leisure lunch. We were driving west bound on 78th Street in Hazel Dell. The rain came at us in a very strange fashion then the hail started. A minute later there were debris flying everywhere. The tornado was accross the entire road. Traffic stopped. There was sheet metal flying, roof tiles, tree branches, shopping carts and other types of debris. When the tornado passed over my van, it was shaking and then lightneing came down and struck the ground about 8 to 10 feet in front of us. You could even smell it! After the tornato passed the hail came down very hard for several minutes. I have seen little crop dusters before and this definitly was way stronger than that. It was very scary. Drving back from lunch we could see trees down everywhere, the roofs on the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Joel Olsen Trucking were destroyed. We saw several fire trucks and police cars in our short ride back to the office. - Tina Swab
Hi my name is Andrea and i was driving on 78th when i noticed a blackish blue cloud reaching what seemed for miles away. then i saw lighting all over the sky then my truch was being blown around and i did A complete circle. i was so scared i thought i was going to hit a building or somthing else. i got in to the JJ Jump parking lot and i was in there for 3 minutes i cam back out and started down 78th and found trees down and power lines. - Andrea
In my 33 years living in Hazel Dell, I have never seen anything like this. I work at Columbia River High School in Hazel Dell, and the hail storm was spectactular during our lunch. I have never seen so many people before with their jaws open at the same time. - Brandon
I live on Fourth Plain Blvd. Just before the tornado hit, I was watching the doppler weather map on KATU and mentioned to my son that it looked like a tornado could be forming right where I-5 and 205 merged north of us. It didn't surprise me when it was finally announced that a tornado had actually touched down in the exact area I mentioned to my son. When I lived in Gulfport, MS in 1967, our house was hit by a tornado (F3). I'm glad this one missed me but sorry for those it did hit. - Debbie