Powerful thunderstorms cause major damage in Thurston County

Thurston County took the brunt of the damage from the system of powerful thunderstorms that moved through Western Washington on Thursday. (Photo: KOMO News)

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. - Some homeowners in Thurston County are just beginning to clean up the damage from the system of powerful thunderstorms that moved through Western Washington on Thursday.

Vince Peltier needed two hands to count the number of trees that were cut in half on the edge of his driveway. For much of Friday, he used a backhoe to pile up all the tree branches and limbs that fell. Luckily, all of them missed his home.

"I got one dented downspout and that’s it," Peltier said.

"All hell broke loose," said neighbor Larry Quartano, who had a large tree fall onto his trailer. "Combination of this and the wind. I mean… it was a little spooky for a little while, but it’s over and we’re okay."

A large tree fell onto the corner of Olympia Waldorf School during the storm. Administrators told KOMO News there was no damage inside the school, but classes were cancelled Friday. They hope to have the tree removed sometime Saturday, administrators added.

Another large tree fell across the street and smashed a portion of a nearby home. No one was injured, neighbors said.

North Thurston School District was closed Friday due to damage from the storm. Several cars were trapped when strong winds toppled trees and power lines along Yelm Highway between Wiggins and Corporate Center Loop, the Thurston County Sheriff's Office says. Other schools experienced delays and modified bus routes.

Amanda Gordon and her one-year-old daughter got caught right in the middle of the mess.

"A power pole came down literally right in front of me, over the hood of the car," she said. "And of course I sort of freaked out."

The energized lines collapsed across several lanes, stranding other drivers like Gordon.

"Behind me there are just lines all over, there's branches everywhere," Gordon said. "There's power lines that actually not only fell but broke in half, so the lines not only fell but then moved across the road and hit people across the road."

She and her daughter were trapped inside their car for about two and a half hours.

"They cut down trees to get to us to make an announcement from a loud speaker to say no one get out, the lines are live," she said. "You freak out quite a bit, especially in the beginning and cry, and then go, 'ok, they are going to come get me, they're going to get me.' "

Peter Wikstrom found himself in a similar situation, with live wires draped across his SUV. His wife waited down the road for emergency crews to rescue him and stayed in touch with her husband by phone.

"Escaped getting smashed by the tree and now I'm worried about the electrical issue," he said.

Just a few miles away, near Ruddell Rd SE & 16th Ave SE, Bill Thomas said he was working outside when the storm rolled in and he was bombarded with hail.

"I've never seen one start quite that fast," he said. "I couldn't see about more than 50 feet, realized, 'holy cow' I've never seen such big hail here before and I've lived here for 40 years."

Thomas said he ran into his house, just as a huge flash lit up the sky.

"We closed the door and saw a flash of blue electric light that lit up the entire, it lit up everything in the house, out of the house, the sky, the foliage, everything around us," said Thomas.

The strong gusts brought down trees and power lines in his neighborhood, too.

"Wow! It was a bunch of, 'bang, bang, bang booms' all in a row from lightning and power getting blown out," said Thomas. "The telephone pole got broken in half by the tree that fell on it, spewed wires across all four lanes. It was quite a show!"

Despite the string winds, The National Weather Service in Seattle says the damage was not indicative of a tornado, based on photos and videos from Thursday night.

Thomas said part of his fence was blown across the yard and their street was partially flooded.

"There was a five-foot wide river going down our road intersecting with several different rivers," he said. "It was very interesting, I haven't seen one like this in a long, long time, if ever. I've never seen one that was associated with such big hail. I've never seen that big of hail, ever."

About half a mile away, a tree nearly split a home in half in the 2500 block of 25th Loop SE.

Matthew Klein said the tree fell from the backyard, pierced through the roof of his garage and splintered walls.

"I didn't expect damage like this. But, I thought the tree went fully this house. But, I was glad to see it's supporting off the house still," said Matthew Klein

He said he was still able to get some of his stuff out of the way - including his car. Firefighters also helped shut off a gas line in the home.

Meantime, several parked cars at a Lacey grocery store didn't stand a chance and were crushed by falling trees.

As of 11:00 p.m. Sunday, Puget Sound Energy said it had nearly 36,000 customers without power, mostly in Thurston County.

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