Tornado hits small Ore. town; no injuries reported

Steven Worden was cutting a customer's hair just before noon on Tuesday when the roof of his barber shop blew off.

Worden, 56, watched the east wall of the store begin to collapse. The top of the wall, constructed of cinder blocks, fell in pieces all around him — his arms were bloodied as he shoved away the blocks and his customers scrambled for safety.

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

No serious injuries were reported in the rare tornado that struck the small town of Aumsville about 45 miles south of Portland on Tuesday, tearing roofs off buildings, hurling objects into vehicles and homes and uprooting trees.

But the damage was extensive.

Trees crashed into porches. A semi-trailer rolled in a field.

"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 in Aumsville.

Next door to Worden's barber shop, 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 of the tiny town of 3,560 people.

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.

The central part of town — where the barber shop and plumbing store stand — saw the heaviest damage. In a neighborhood, six families were displaced in the storm and required temporary housing, Oregon Red Cross spokeswoman Lise Harwin said. The Red Cross opened a shelter at the Mt. View Wesleyan Church in Aumsville, where workers delivered food, beverages and debit cards that pay for people's groceries and clothing.

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

"What all Oregonians should do now is reach out and see what they can do to help the people here," Kulongoski said, "because this is going to be a tough Christmas for the people in Aumsville."

Tornadoes in Oregon are rare. The twister Tuesday 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, but no one was hurt.

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

On Tuesday, Aumsville City Administrator Maryann Hills said people in City Hall listened as "the loudest hail I've ever heard" pounded the roof of the building. Then, a funnel cloud appeared and debris ripped from the roofs of houses began to fly toward downtown.

In a neighborhood near Main Street, dazed residents emerged less than an hour after the storm to inspect the damage to their houses and those of their neighbors. The Aumsville Fire Department warned people away from fallen power lines, and a member of the fire department threatened onlookers with jail time if they violated the order.

Justin Profitt, 22, said he was watching a movie in his bedroom when he heard a rattling noise and looked outside to see his fence had fallen.

"I was freaking out," Profitt said. "I have lived in Oregon all my life and I never thought I would actually see a tornado."

A flagpole at the city's fire station was bent in half, and a tree had fallen on the porch of a one-story home.

Joshua Farrer, 34, said he looked outside his house shortly before noon and saw a semi-trailer roll three times in the severe wind. He saw an outdoor table and a trampoline fly by his house.

"When I heard it coming over the house, I thought the house was going to come down," Farrer said.

More than three hours after the storm, gray skies held over the city.

Gerald Macke, of the National Weather Service in Portland, said the tornado touched down at about 11:45 a.m, according to reports from emergency managers who spotted the funnel cloud.

The weather service has sent storm teams to the area, who will use GPS devices to help measure the breadth of the storm and its wind speed.

Jan Mitchell, spokesman for Pacific Power, said about 5,700 customers lost power, and it was too early to say how soon power would be restored.

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 area.