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'Like the Wizard of Oz' as twister hits Ore. town

A tornado struck the small town of Aumsville on Tuesday, tearing roofs off buildings, hurling objects into vehicles and homes and uprooting trees.
Image:
Nichol's Plumbing in Aumsville was badly damaged.Timothy J. Gonzalez / Statesman-Journal via AP
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Juanita Nichol ran Nichol's Plumbing for 50 years in the same building — until it was annihilated Tuesday by a tornado.

The twister tore roofs off buildings, hurled objects into vehicles and homes, and uprooted trees. At least three homes were destroyed, as was the police chief's office, while dozens of properties were damaged, NBC station KGW TV in Portland reported.

After the storm, townspeople feared that Nichol — described as the town's grandmother — had been in the building. But it turns out she had left the building 20 minutes before the tornado hit to get her car reparied.

But the business she started with her late husband was destroyed.

"I never dreamt that it would be completely gone," Nichol said Tuesday afternoon several blocks down the street at the Pizza Peddler. "My husband and I built that building in 1962. We started our business in 1959.

"And to think how God in his perfect time took me out of there and I wasn't part of that," she said.

In fact, no injuries were reported. There were early reports that some people had been trapped in cars by the swiftness of the tornado.

The heaviest damage seemed to be in the central part of this town of 3,560 people, 45 miles south of Portland. Twisters are rare in this part of the country — just three others have touched down in the region over the last decade.

"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.

MaryAnn Hills, Aumsville city administrator, said a plumbing fixture store across the street from City Hall was severely damaged.

"There's maybe a quarter of the building left," Hills said. "Most of it ended up on the house next door."

A house is taped off after damage caused by a tornado that touched down on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. The tornado struck the small town on Tuesday, tearing roofs off buildings, hurling objects into vehicles and homes and uprooting trees. No injuries were reported. There were early reports that some people had been trapped in cars. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Timothy J. Gonzalez) TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman-Journal

Hills said people in her office 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.

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."

Joshua Farrer said he looked outside his house shortly before noon and saw a manufactured home 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.

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.

Macke said the emergency managers reported seeing people trapped in cars by fallen power lines and trees knocked over.

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

For resident Stefania McCully, it was simply huge.

"It sounded extremely loud outside," she told KGW. "My lights started to flicker and I opened the blinds and I saw the huge tornado behind my back yard. The sucker was probably three times as big and up to the sky. It's just creepy, the thing was so big ... I'm just a little frazzled."