Port Angeles man witnesses Alabama twister

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Douglas Ticknor of Port Angeles had a close encounter Wednesday with one of the twisters that swept through the South, killing hundreds — at least 195 in Alabama alone — in the country’s deadliest series of tornados in decades.

Ticknor, a funeral director at Drennan & Ford Funeral Home in Port Angeles, was in Huntsville, Ala., visiting his niece, Angel Ticknor, 10, of Rainier.

Angel was taking part in the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Space Camp when the violent storms arrived.

Douglas Ticknor was at a La Quinta Inn less than two miles from the space camp, which doubled as a bunker, when he heard the tornado warning siren shortly after 4 p.m.

Douglas jumped in his vehicle and hightailed it to the space camp in the direction of a massive tornado.

“It wasn’t like you see in the movies — not like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Douglas said during an interview on his cellphone Thursday. “It was just a black wall of rain wrapped in a tornado.”

Twister two miles away

Douglas Ticknor estimated he was two miles from the twister when he arrived at the space camp shelter.

“The kids were rounded up and taken to the shelter,” he said. “The shelter basically is a huge bunker. There were no windows.”

The chaperones put on a movie for the kids as the tornado skirted to the north. Everyone remained calm. No one was hurt.

“When you put a group of 100 to 200 kids in a room, they have a ball,” Douglas Ticknor said. “The seriousness of the situation doesn’t really hit them.”

Despite the destruction in the region, the weeklong space camp went on, though some parents picked up their kids and went home early.

“This morning, after the devastation yesterday, I was certain they were going to cancel it,” Douglas Ticknor said.

A meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., called the storms “the most intense supercell thunderstorms” that forecasters had seen.

Parts of the South were destroyed, with neighborhoods left in ruins.

At least 291 were reported dead in six states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia — with hundreds, if not thousands, of people injured — nearly 800 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., which is about 156 miles from Huntsville.

Power outage

Douglas Ticknor believes the tornado he saw on the way to the space camp may have caused a statewide power outage in Alabama.

“None of the street lights worked,” he said. “This morning, the local sheriff instituted a curfew from dusk to dawn.”

Sirens were blaring throughout the day Wednesday.

Douglas quickly learned the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning, the latter of which means there is a confirmed tornado in the area.

A meteorologist on a local television station broke into tears while delivering a forecast. Douglas learned the woman on TV had family in the path of a tornado.

“It was very intense for the folks down here,” he said.

Douglas Ticknor was scheduled to land at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tonight and return to Port Angeles on Saturday. He’ll have stories to tell for years.

“It was unfreaking real,” he said. “I don’t really have words to describe it.”


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 28. 2011 11:12PM
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