SPECIAL ALERT: Port Orchard Tornado Update

I have watched the devastation of hurricanes, cyclones and tornadoes for decades. My prayers have gone out to the victims, survivors, first responders and volunteers during those tragic events.

All of them I saw from a distance–usually along the east coast of the United States and in the Gulf region–and only through the eyes of the television news.

Yesterday, a tornado struck our hometown of Port Orchard for a devastating sixty seconds. I saw it up close and personal–then felt the prayers and appreciated the communications of many as they poured in from around the world.

Here’s what happened and how you can help.

A Little Background

Shirley’s and my hometown–Port Orchard, Washington–is a small community nestled in the center of Puget Sound, a thirty minute ferry ride from Seattle.

We both grew up here and had never heard the term “devastation” being used to describe local events. Yes, we’ve had earthquakes, windstorms, power outages, and other problems over the years.

But never what we experienced yesterday at 2 pm.

I was scheduled to pick up a computer from Softline Computers, where my long-time friend, Maryann Acker, was doing some annual maintenance. As I turned into the Softline driveway at about 1:55 pm, the rain pounded the pavement and I waited for a moment for the squall to pass.  It didn’t. Hopping out, I ran to the front door of the small business to avoid the deluge.

When I opened the door, Maryann was standing by her desk looking down.  The power had just gone out (gusty winds) and she wasn’t finished downloading onto my computer. We chatted for a minute as rain and other items (we thought branches) kept hitting the roof.

Then we saw it.

Looking out the side window of her office, above the house and yard adjacent to us, we stared at a huge cone of wind and fury that we’d never viewed in these parts. We both stared.

I noticed many dark objects swirling in the eye of the storm–above the house next door. They reminded me of leaves, but at that height, they couldn’t be.  Then it hit me. Those aren’t leaves, they are house debris from the neighborhood.”

We then watched the V-shaped cone move past the Softline store and disappear in the distance. Within thirty seconds, the ferocious winds were gone.

After trying to make sense of what we’d seen, we noticed a woman in the street looking in the direction of the tornado’s path with panic on her face. Soon, fire engines and ambulances began to arrive in the neighborhood. We went outside to see what was going on.

We had just missed the edge of a catastrophic tornado–only the second one in the history of our county. In only sixty seconds on the ground, this 130 mph twister:

  • Hit the Walmart store I’d just visited,
  • Tore off or damaged the roofs of nearly two hundred and fifty homes in a one mile stretch,
  • Flattened trees like toothpicks,
  • And launched many debris-like missiles to earth.

I didn’t know the extent of the damage when I went outside. But looking around at a metal picnic table that had been tossed into the parking lot, a huge electrical conduit on the ground, a metal fire pit that had catapulted out of the sky, and parts of shingles, sheet-rock, broken glass, and many downed limbs littering the ground, I knew the damage was extensive.

As I traveled the three miles to our house, I saw firetrucks and police cars, streets closed, roofs gone, giant billboards shattered, and first responders everywhere. It was really devastating–a type not seen in my lifetime in this part of the country.

Radio and television confirmed the news later of the devastating Port Orchard Tornado–with texts, emails, and social media coming at us from around the nation and world. The story dominated the evening news. It even made the national headlines.

Thankfully, at this writing, no one has been killed and only a few were injured. Today, as the rain continues to come down and a new wind storm is projected to arrive tomorrow, our town is struggling to survey the damage, start the clean-up, and reach out to those impacted.

Many local churches are assisting.  St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church opened their doors last night–just four hours after the tornado hit–to house people evacuated from their homes. I visited the complex this morning and was heartened to find piles of clothes being donated and food and water  brought in to help those who are displaced.

Chaplains are working with those still assessing the rubble and a plan is being formed to adopt families and homes to help with clean-up and long-term restoration.

Can you help us?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Please PRAY for the 250 families and businesses most affected by the Port Orchard Tornado. God wants to bring hope and encouragement to all of them.
  2. DONATE to a gofundme account set up by Port Orchard area churches. Here’s the link:
  3. The Red Cross is also leading efforts to help. You can donate through them as well by designating the funds for Kitsap County Red Cross – Port Orchard Tornado Relief.
  4. If you live in the South Kitsap area, GET INVOLVED by contacting your home church and serving with them.

Thanks for praying and giving to those impacted by this tornado.We believe God can cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).

I’ll keep you posted.