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Tornado Strikes Vancouver

POSTED: 12:44 pm PST January 10, 2008
UPDATED: 6:30 pm PST January 10, 2008

A rare tornado touched down Thursday in a residential area of Vancouver, downing power lines, uprooting trees, tossing shopping carts into cars and causing moments of fear.

There were no immediate reports of injuries as the tornado cut through four miles from Vancouver Lake at the west edge of the town through the Hazel Dell area.

Vancouver Fire Department spokesman Jim Flaherty asked people to stay inside their homes and businesses because of live downed power lines and potential dangers on roads.

He also urged people not to call 911 unless it is an actual medical emergency.

Utility officials said 1,200 customers initially lost power.

Sgt. Scott Schanaker of the Clark County Sheriff's Office said the first calls came in just after noon. Shortly afterward, multiple phone calls came in reporting damage, primarily downed power lines.

The most serious damage is near Fruit Valley Road south of Northeast 78th Street.

The National Weather Service issued, and then canceled, a tornado warning. Meteorologists said they had detected the tornado but couldn't estimate its wind speed.

"We saw the tornado on the radar ... and issued a tornado warning," said Steve Todd, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Portland. "About the time we were issuing it, we got a report over there from the emergency management folks that they had gotten a touchdown and some damage."

After the tornado hit, the National Weather Service in Portland issued a severe thunderstorm warning for east-central Multnomah County in northwest Oregon, but that warning ended at 2:30 p.m.

Todd said the region of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon sees only one or two tornadoes a year, most often in sparsely populated areas.

"We do see more of actually what we call funnel clouds," he said. "Those are the same type of phenomenon, only they don't touch down. As soon as they touch down, a funnel cloud changes from a funnel cloud to a tornado."

But, he said, Pacific Northwest tornadoes tend to be weaker than those of the Midwest.

On April 5, 1972, a tornado struck Vancouver, killing six people, injuring about 300 more and causing $3 million in damage. Among the injured were about 70 children from the Peter S. Ogden Elementary School, which was demolished.

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