On Dec. 18, a rare tornado struck Port Orchard, a community of about 14,000 that sits roughly 80 miles northeast of Grays Harbor. It was the strongest one to touch down in Washington in more than 30 years, chewing up a 1.4-mile stretch in just five minutes.
Many homes were destroyed, with others sustaining damage ranging from broken windows to crushed roofs. A month later, dozens of families are still displaced — and logs are stacked all over the place, cut from trees that were literally pulled up out of the ground, exposing their massive root wads above the surface.
Mona Hass of Ocean City — the mother of one of the affected Port Orchard homeowners, Dominique Speak — decided something ought be done to boost spirits in that neighborhood. And, being heavily involved in the chainsaw art community, she thought it might be fun to assemble a group to create sculptures out of some of those logs and donate them to the community.
She mentioned her thoughts to Tony Robinson, owner of Native Beach Accessories in Copalis Crossing. He jumped right in to help organize the event.
“It was just an idea, and it went boom!” said Hass, who also organizes the annual Burning Bears event in Ocean City. So her daughter agreed to host the carvers at her house, which suffered only minor damage in the storm. She also set about letting her neighbors know what was happening and asking for requests. By Saturday, that list included sculptures of praying hands; an eagle; Sasquatches; “Taz” (the Looney Tunes Tasmanian devil) in a tornado; and many other images.
“I told Dominique: You take care of this end, and I’ll round up all the carvers,” said Robinson.
He quickly managed to get several others on board.
“My fellow Brethren of the Chainsaw have answered the call,” he proudly announced in a Facebook post on Friday.
And so, early Saturday morning, 10 artists — including two from Grays Harbor County — traveled from all over Western Washington to participate in what came to be called Storm Carve. The buzz of chainsaws of all sizes could be heard from several directions in that Port Orchard neighborhood on what turned out to be beautiful, clear day.
“We have a whole bunch of friends who volunteered to help with the food and everything like that,” Robinson said on Saturday. “So it’s a real good thing.”
He and his girlfriend, Staci Bruce, arrived at 7 a.m. and set up on property owned by Ron Pierce and Robin Berndt, working all weekend with wood cut from trees they had lost in the storm.
“We were home when it happened,” said Berndt. “I can remember hearing ‘ping, ping, ping’ as the wind was blowing debris into our windows. I thought we were going to lose them for sure.” But their home sustained only minor damage.
Their neighbors weren’t so lucky. One of the huge trees from their yard crushed the mobile home behind them; another landed on a next-door neighbor’s roof.
Vikki Diesler of Enumclaw said her daughter’s house nearby had been classified as unlivable, and the vintage custom Jeep that had been in the attached garage was destroyed. She also noted that the tornado also significantly thinned the forested area behid their neighborhood, pulling up hundreds of trees. “You couldn’t even see the mountains before,” she said, pointing at the newly opened vista.
Brandon Levesque, Robinson’s neighbor in Copalis Crossing, also was there creating his signature bear sculptures and other pieces in another yard a block away.
“Coming up here and carving what we can from the mess, to turn tragedy from their own area with their own wood into something good — to me, that means a lot,” said Levesque, who operates BAD Yard Art. “It’s so much better than just carving something and handing it to them.”
Thor, a chainsaw artist from Mossyrock, was staying with Robinson in Copalis Crossing when the call went out. He carved a variety of images for local residents, including a tornado with trees poking out of it.
“One of the neighbors walked up and said he liked the tornado piece, and he wanted one too,” he said, grinning. “I was like, sure, but it won’t be the same.”
By the end of the weekend, the participating carvers had created dozens of unique sculptures for local residents.
“This is all just so awesome, so incredible … for these guys to donate their time to make happiness,” said Berndt.
“It was so nice,”” said Hass. “People were trying to offer them money, but they wouldn’t take it.”
It was all worthwhile “to hear and see the happiness and individual stories of struggle turned to joy,” said Robinson.
Reporter Dan Hammock contributed to this story.