Tornado's fury sent man flying into wall


POSTED: Friday, February 13, 2009

Neil Bernard walked away with a few bruises, a pinched nerve and possibly whiplash after helping a couple who were driving a cart into a tornado at Kapolei Golf Course on Wednesday.

;[Preview]    Tornado Victim

Man injured during Thursday's tornado in Kapolei

Watch ]


“;It just happened so quick,”; said Bernard, assistant golf pro at the course. “;I can't remember what I was thinking at the time. Everything just went blank.”;

It was the first tornado to hit Oahu since 2005, and Bernard was the only person injured.

At about 1 p.m., Bernard watched the tornado form in the employee parking lot, starting as a black cloud that cleared up as it moved over the pavement and toward employees.

He told the employees to find shelter and was heading into the golf pro shop when he saw four carts returning from the 18th hole.

One of the carts drove toward the golf pro shop and straight into the tornado. Bernard, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 256 pounds, ran in to help.

A woman was in the passenger seat but was being pulled out of the cart by the twister. Bernard pulled her back into the cart next to the man, who was holding onto the steering wheel.

“;It was pretty chaotic,”; said Byran Manansala, a course employee who saw Bernard head into the tornado. “;The vacuum from that thing was so strong it kept holding the door on us.”;

Taking shelter in the cart shack, Manansala watched as trash cans and recycling bins flew through the air and golf clubs rose out of their bags “;like magic.”; He said the woman was almost swept off her feet before Bernard grabbed her.

“;She was screaming, she was going hysterical. She didn't know what to do,”; he said.

Bernard, 32, said the wind roared so loudly it drowned out the woman's screams.

“;I could see but I couldn't really hear,”; he said, adding that the noise was coming from golf bags, trash cans and rubbish crashing into things. “;It sounded like on New Year's Eve with all the fireworks going.”;

The tornado was about 50 feet wide.

“;We were right underneath it,”; he said. “;I wasn't really feeling everything. I was just excited, scared. All emotions were mixed into one.”;

As he held onto the couple, the wind lifted him and banged him against the cart's roof. As the couple held onto the steering wheel, he ran back toward the building for shelter and was thrown about 10 feet into a wall, landing on his left side.

“;I didn't even notice I was in the air,”; he said. “;Now that I think about it this morning ... I realized how fast I got back to the wall. I kind of realized I was airborne.”;

He looked back and saw the cart's front end rise before the driver leaned forward to push it back down.

In about 25 seconds the tornado passed him, and he ran back to the couple to get them out of the cart.

The tornado created a narrow path of destruction in the five to 10 minutes it existed, a golf course official said. It tossed a 1,000-pound golf cart about 60 feet into a tractor and tore off fragments of the pro shop roof. It continued across six holes, tearing up trees and bushes before disappearing near the 15th hole.

Management was looking into the cost of damage yesterday.

Fifteen minutes after he had been tossed, Bernard passed out. He was treated at the hospital and released.

Doctors told him he might have whiplash and a mild concussion, causing his blackout, and a pinched nerve. He was given painkillers for the bruises on his left shoulder blade, hip and lower back.

“;I'm fine,”; he said. “;I'm walking around. It hurts more when I sit down or lie down.”;

Bernard said he has survived five hurricanes in Samoa and now has more respect for tornados.

“;I probably won't be running out as much now,”; he said. “;I'm just happy that nobody was seriously injured.”;