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Port Orchard tornado confirmed an EF-2, strongest tornado in state since 1986

Tornado strikes Port Orchard (Video: Aurora Day)

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- The National Weather Service in Seattle has confirmed that the tornado that hit Tuesday in Port Orchard was an EF-2.

NWS said it is the strongest tornado to hit Washington state since 1986.

A storm team from the NWS wrapped up a damage survey Wednesday afternoon of the tornado that blew through a Port Orchard neighborhood Tuesday.

The survey revealed the twister had estimated wind speeds of 120-130 mph and was on the ground for approximately 1.4 miles. The path of the twister started at Geiger road and ended at SE Kerri Court. It was approximately 250 to 300 yards wide.

It was on the ground for about five minutes.

“This tornado was strong and not something we commonly see here west of cascades,” said Logan Johnson who is the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

The tornado ripped through just before 2 p.m., near the intersection of Bethel Road SE and SE Lund Ave., damaging several homes and toppling a number of trees and power lines, but as of Wednesday morning there are still no reports of anyone seriously injured or killed.

"Miraculously, we did not treat any major or severe injuries in this storm," said Assistant Chief Jeff Faucett with South Kitsap Fire & Rescue. "We did not transport anybody (to the hospital) as a result of the storm."

Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson took it a step further.

"To some degree it was right time, right place, and pure luck," Wilson said. "Santa Claus looking over us, maybe.... call it the 'Miracle on Bethel Avenue'... But without having considerable injuries to anyone that's been reported to us, is beyond the pale as far as we know."

“A lot people here today have been calling it a miracle,” said Johnson.

Overall, as many as 450 structures have been damaged, Kitsap County Sheriff's officials said. Local fire officials hoped to complete an initial damage assessment by Wednesday night.

Kitsap County Search and Rescue workers along with search dogs worked into Tuesday night. They swept the area checking for people who may have been injured or stranded but found none.

Emily Silverman was caught in the tornado as she was driving with her husband and 2-year-old son near the Walmart.

"And it's raining and it's pouring down really bad and before you know it everything was flying everywhere," she said. "Our car back windows blew out, our side windows blew out. Things hit us -- there were a few people who had some head injuries from being hit by things. A car got pushed into a back... there was an accident. It was crazy. There were things flying everywhere. I thought I was a goner."

She had her 2-year-old son in the back seat.

"So glad he's OK because the whole back window just busted in," Silverman said. "If it kept going and didn't leave as fast as it did, he could have been hurt really bad."

The National Weather Service team will look at the severity and spread of damage to determine where the storm ranks on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. If the storm rates as an EF-2 or larger it will just be the 16th tornado in recorded state history to reach that strength, and just the second ever in December.

John Mueller's red home was perhaps the most damaged of them all.

He was at work at a shipyard when he saw the social media video of the tornado and instantly recognized his home. He raced home to find heavy damage.

"If I could describe the house, it would be roofless," Mueller said. "The entire upstairs is gone. There's 2x4 and 4x4s sticking out of the walls. Glass shattered everywhere. The downstairs is just full of water and broken glass.... I think (the tornado) landed on top of the house. There's no garage door...there's nothing left."

Mueller said there was a basketball hoop in his cul de sac that was popular with his and his neighbor's kids.

"That basketball hoop that was on the other side of the cul de sac is upside-down in my garage...sticking out of one of the walls," he said.

He said his family was safe and firefighters helped collect his pet rabbit and cats.

"I'm just thankful that God has saved all the family members," Mueller said while holding his pet rabbit. "Two-legged and four-legged alike."

The Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers to help those who are impacted and opening a shelter at Saint Gabriel Roman Catholic Church. Power was out in the region, but was restored to all but just the most heavily damaged homes by Wednesday night.

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