A tornado tore into the southeast corner of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on Sunday, injuring five people and tossing at least three vehicles into the water, officials say.
The twister struck around 3 p.m. Sunday in a section of the base that’s mostly used by Coast Guard Maritime Force Protection Unit Kings Bay, but none of their personnel reported injuries and officials say their 87-foot small cutters escaped major damage.
Instead, a federal civilian employee, a male child and an active duty sailor who were fishing nearby suffered minor injuries while scrambling for shelter as the tornado touched down at the Georgia base. In a nearby patrol boat, two Navy masters-at-arms ducked down in the pilot house as the funnel slammed them around.
“The winds almost overturned it,” base spokesman Christopher Tucker told Navy Times on Monday. “From our perspective, we’re just glad that they’re safe.”
All five victims were transported to local medical facilities, treated for minor injuries and released on Sunday, Tucker said.
The tornado suddenly spun out of a thunderstorm, leaving them with little warning that it would touch down, Tucker said.
Tracing the path of destruction, the twister apparently ripped through 200 meters of the base to the waterline, barreled east across the sound and then slammed into the Cumberland Island National Seashore.
Park officials did not return messages from Navy Times.
An initial damage survey by the Navy found the vehicles in a nearby waterway, multiple trees snapped and blocking roadways and power lines down but there was no damage to the base’s submarines or key structures.
The Navy has asked experts from the Army Corps of Engineers to inspect the channel. The pier had been undergoing repairs from 2017′s Tropical Storm Irma before the tornado hit.
Weather instruments onboard the Coast Guard vessels clocked winds around 138 miles per hour, officials said. That would put the Kings Bay tornado strike at the lower end of EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.
Cyclones at that velocity tend to cause severe damage to large buildings, often overturning locomotives and destroying structures with weak foundations.
Tucker said that a large steel CONEX box had been flipped over and rumpled and a guard shack and nearby small storage buildings sustained roof damage but the base for the most part weathered the storm well.
An M80 crane on a barge also broke loose from its moorings and had to be retrieved but the Coast Guard facility also escaped destruction, officials in both services said.
Public Affairs Specialist 3rd Class Ryan Dickinson, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Navy Times that the small cutters used by the maritime force protection unit “are still functional" and will continue to patrol the waterways near the submarine base.
The Navy’s Atlantic Fleet homeports ballistic missile nuclear submarines at Kings Bay, including Ohio-class boats armed with Trident II missiles.