Approximately 250 homes were damaged by a tornado in Kitsap County Tuesday, according to Kitsap County Emergency Management. At least 11 of the homes were “red tagged,” meaning the building is unsafe and dangerous to occupy.
Emergency officials initially said 450 homes were damaged but determined the number was lower after inspections continued Wednesday.
The tornado was rated as an EF-2 with wind speeds reaching between 120-130 mph, according to a preliminary report released by the National Weather Service Wednesday.
Logan Johnson with the National Weather Service says the tornado wasn't typical.
"Certainly not what we typically get for tornadoes," he said.
Johnson says it is a "real blessing" that nobody was seriously injured. "Best possible outcome," he added.
The tornado uprooted trees and severely damaged homes and buildings in Port Orchard on Tuesday just before 2 p.m.
Aerial footage of the damage showed homes that had entire roofs ripped off and other houses where trees had fallen on top of them.
“It came and went in the blink of an eye and left so much devastation,” said Russell Lawhead, who was in a parking lot near Bethel Road Southeast and Southeast Salmonberry Road when the tornado hit. “The most incredible thing is sitting in my car wondering what is going on, what is happening?”
Most of the "catastrophic" damage is confined to the neighborhoods east and south of the Walmart in the 3400 block of Bethel Road Southeast, according to the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office. There were active power lines down in those neighborhoods, and gas companies checked their supply lines for leaks. Assessment crews will discover natural gas leaks as they inspect homes. If residents smell natural gas, they should notify Kitsap 911 immediately.
Cascade Natural Gas said there were no natural gas leaks in the affected area. There was one report of a gas leak at a home off Rhapsody Drive due to a tree falling, but it has been secured.
Residents are advised to avoid those areas or shelter in place as those neighborhoods have not been deemed safe, according to the sheriff's office.
Several roads remain closed in the area, including Harris Road between Lund Avenue and Salmonberry Road, Bethel Road between Lund and Salmonberry, and Southeast Tiburon Court.
Witnesses said they could feel the tornado shaking entire structures as winds whipped outside.
"The wind very quickly picked up, and I started seeing the trees blow," said Christopher Raymond of Port Orchard. "All the walls just started shaking really violently, and me and my uncle actually saw what appeared to be a tornado in the sky going up through our backyard."
Raymond said a tree fell through his bedroom, trapping his girlfriend in between the door and the door jamb. Raymond said he freed her before he left the house and then saw another tree fall on the opposite corner of the home.
"It became very chaotic very quickly," Raymond said.
Jennifer Connelly Delay said she saw heavy rain, hail, and wind before she saw the tornado spinning.
"I thought I was going to get sucked up," Connelly Delay said.
"It's devastating," said Mary Hicks, who lives in a neighborhood where the tornado struck. "I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never experienced the devastation that a tornado can do."
There are no reports of injuries, according to Washington State Patrol.
The National Weather Service confirmed Tuesday the storm was a tornado based on radar imagery and video evidence.
A team of National Weather Service meteorologists and a science and operations officer conducted a damage survey Wednesday to determine estimated wind speed, path length and width, and time on the ground.
South Kitsap School District said its students were safe. Some schools were out of power, but power is back online now.
All after-school activities were canceled. School bus routes were delayed Tuesday afternoon.
The district anticipates schools will run on a regular two-hour late start Wednesday.
The Red Cross mobilized a response to the damage. An emergency evacuation center opened at St. Gabriel Roman Catholic Church at 1150 Mitchell Avenue Southeast in Port Orchard for people who need a safe place until they can return home.
The Gig Harbor Fire Department also sent a strike team to assist.
Some bus service through Port Orchard was canceled to mobilize for the emergency response, according to Kitsap Transit. Affected routes included 4-Tremont, 5-Sidney, 8-Bethel, 9-South Park, 81-Annapolis Commuter, 85-Mullenix Express, 86-Southworth Shuttle, Purdy Connection & Kitsap Ride. Ferry-take-home service ran from the Port Orchard, Annapolis, and Southworth docks.
Courtney Obergfell, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said thunderstorms were in the forecast for that area Tuesday afternoon, but tornadoes are hard to predict and hard to forecast.
“They can form with little notice and drop a tornado very quickly and then dissipate within minutes,” Obergfell said.
Another system is expected to move through Western Washington on Wednesday night bringing more strong winds, lowland rain, and mountain snow. However, thunderstorms are not expected, and Obergfell said another tornado would be difficult to forecast more than a day or two in advance.
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Tornados in Washington are rare and even more rare in December. On average, Washington has about 2.5 tornadoes annually, 0.1 of which are in December.
The last tornado in Washington was an EF-0 in Monroe in March. It tipped over two RVs and crushed a nearby car.
Port Orchard is about 23 miles southwest of Seattle.