Tornado strikes Grand Bahama, toppling crane at Bahamas port and killing at 3 workers

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tornado topples crane at Bahamas port, killing 3

FREEPORT, Bahamas — A tornado touched down during a fierce thunderstorm in the Bahamas on Monday and toppled a port crane, killing three people and injuring at least four.

The crane collapsed at the Freeport Container Port on the western side of Grand Bahama, where trees were uprooted and windows blasted out of hotels as at least one tornado cut a destructive path on the island about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Florida.

Two people were inside the crane when it fell and both died, said Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency. Russell said a third person was also killed and four were injured at the port, but he had no details.

Witness Glen Marchesani told The Tribune newspaper that the dead and injured were part of a crew of around 10 men doing maintenance work on one of the port’s 10 cranes when it came crashing down.

The foundation of the crane was ripped from the ground. Mangled metal from the toppled crane splashed into the roiling water at the port or came to rest on a rocky embankment.

A government statement said the tornado damaged six of the port’s cranes. The Bahamas Information Services said the port will likely be closed for days and is expected to operate at a reduced capacity when it reopens.

Godfrey Smith, director of the Freeport Container Port, declined to release the victims’ names, saying company executives were still trying to contact relatives. He said further details about the fatalities would be released following an investigation.

Elsewhere on Grand Bahama, the storm blew out windows, stripped shingles and peeled off a few roofs. Wind-whipped debris hung from trees.

After hitting Grand Bahama, the storm moved toward Abaco island and the capital of Nassau on New Providence. No damage was immediately reported on those islands.

Hurricanes are common in the Bahamas but tornadoes are relatively rare. Pat Butler, a forecaster with the Bahamas Meteorology Department, said they occur about once every three years in the island chain.

Damage on Grand Bahama appeared to be greatest in and around Port Lucaya and Freeport, with witnesses reporting many uprooted trees, broken windows and damaged roofs and cars.

Several guests at the Island Seas Resort were taken to the hospital with minor scrapes from debris but none were seriously injured, said Hubert Gibson, the hotel’s activity director.

“Everybody’s OK. Everybody’s in good shape. It just caught us off guard,” he said.

Racquell Harvey, who works at the Port Lucaya Marina, said five boats were damaged as they seesawed in their berths while the storm whipped up white-crested waves around noon.

“The tornado just came out of nowhere,” Harvey said at the marina’s office. “We were thinking it was just a rain storm, then we saw it coming all of a sudden. It was kind of scary.”

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