A cell phone video shot by a bystander on the beach shows a waterspout heading toward shore. The whirling column of air and mist, later classified as an EF-0 tornado by the National Weather Service, could be seen moving from the water onto the beach. Lifeguards set the alarm by blowing their whistles, and beachgoers began to run.
Within seconds, after blowing through a canopy, the waterspout lifted at least one of the bounce houses 50 feet into the air. The bounce house can be seen blowing through the beach parking lot and into four lanes of highway traffic, where it landed on the other side. Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. DeAnna Greenlaw says that one of the bounce houses was empty, and the other dumped three children into the sand as it was lifted. Police do not know how the fourth child was hurt.
Three children, all under 8 years old, were taken to Broward Health Medical Center at about 12:30 p.m. on Memorial Day. One child was held for observation overnight, and the other two kids were released with minor injuries, including fractures.
Six-year-old Shamoya Ferguson, the injured child kept in the hospital overnight, told NBC Miami, "I was in the bounce house and a tornado while I was in the bounce house and I flew up and dropped."
Five-year old Shadaja Bryant, who broke her arm in the accident, adds, "I was thinking I was about to die. I was in the bounce house and then it flew while I was in there, then I fell in the dirt."
According to police, these bounce houses were provided by the city for public use at a Memorial Day beach event. Both bounce houses were properly secured to a basketball court, yet the waterspout that seemed to "come out of nowhere" was strong enough to send one house airborne and into traffic.
Witnesses described the scene of a waterspout-turned-tornado as a Memorial Day nightmare. The waterspout came out of the ocean where families were sitting with towels. The swirling column turned on a dime and headed straight for the bounce houses, taking out the basketball goal and light poles with its force. Jammelia Wray, a cousin of one of the children, tells NBC Miami that the waterspout "kept spinning" and dropped one little girl on the concrete.
For any parents who have taken their kids to a local bounce house for some fun, fun, fun, a story like this is gut-wrenching. What started as a normal day at the beach turned unimaginably dangerous when kids were thrown by a tornado with winds between 65 and 85 mph. After viewing the video, National Weather Service forecaster Steven Ippoliti said the formation of the waterspout was unusual since it did not appear to be caused by a visible cloud or thunderstorm.
So, the tornado that lifted two bounce houses and injured four kids was a fluke. Even more fortunate is the fact that the bounce houses were properly secured and anchored on solid ground — because it could have been much worse. Safety experts advise against inflating bounce houses on soft ground, like sand, since a minimum of 9-inch spikes are needed to anchor them properly.
For parents who may be tempted to swear off bounce houses forever, there are some precautions you can take. Before letting your child play in a bounce house, make sure it is properly inflated and secured according to regulations, as these beach bounce houses were. At the beach, sit close enough to the lifeguards on duty so you can hear any emergency warnings immediately. Listen to the weather forecast carefully and trust your gut — if unpredictable weather is on the horizon, it may be time to reschedule your beach trip.
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