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50-mph dust devil tosses kids around on playground


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POSTED: Thursday, April 22, 2010

What may have been a “;dust devil”; on the grounds of Makaha Elementary School blew students around yesterday morning, lifting some into the air and causing minor injuries, the school principal said.

Lynn Okamura, principal at Makaha Elementary, said a class of 25 students were at a park preparing to play volleyball when the custodian noticed the wind had picked up to more than 50 mph.

“;It was a clear day”; until the wind started blowing and the custodian looked up to see two dust devils merging into one, she said. “;It was taller than those light fixtures on the courts. It picked up tennis rackets, dirt, rocks, kids and equipment bags.

“;Several students were lifted 2 feet off the ground,”; she said. “;One child was holding onto the fence, his legs were flying.”;

Paramedics were called about 10:50 a.m. to the Ala Naauao Place school after the whirlwind threw about 14 fourth-graders around, said Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the Honolulu Department of Emergency Services.

All the students were treated and released, Cheplic said. No one was seriously injured.

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Okamura said about 15 students went home because they weren't feeling well or their clothes were dusty. Some parents took them to the hospital for further checkups. Three returned to class.

A dirt devil is a rotating column of air, usually visible by the dirt it picks up. It lasts for only a short time and can be between 10 and 100 feet wide with an average height of 600 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The high winds yesterday were probably just a strong gust, said forecaster Henry Lau.

“;It was just kind of a windy tradewinds situation and nothing out of the ordinary,”; he said. “;We've been having these kinds of winds the past couple days.”;

He said the strong winds will continue through today.

Nothing unusual was picked up by a wind gauge in Waianae, and no other incidents had been reported yesterday morning, Lau said.