/Tornado in Northern Michigan Kills One and Damages Homes and Businesses – The New York Times

Tornado in Northern Michigan Kills One and Damages Homes and Businesses – The New York Times


At least one person was killed and 44 people were injured when a tornado swept through Northern Michigan on Friday, damaging numerous homes and businesses, flipping cars and downing trees, the authorities said.

The patients were taken to four different hospitals, though their conditions were not immediately available. Lt. Derrick Carroll of the Michigan State Police reported from Gaylord, a city of about 4,000 in Michigan’s lower peninsula, that the storm had torn through a mobile home park and the business area and knocked out power.

Vic Ouellette, 74, a Gaylord City Council member, was in the basement of the home where he was born when the three-bedroom structure collapsed on him and his wife, he said in a phone interview.

“I’ve got a goose egg the size of a lemon on the top of my head where the roof hit me,” Mr. Ouellette said as he waited to be seen at a nearby emergency room, wearing just shorts, a T-shirt and one slipper. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

Though his childhood home was destroyed, Mr. Ouellette said, he and his wife were going to be OK, thanks to people who helped pull them from the debris. “We couldn’t have gotten out of there without help,” he said.

Mr. Ouellette, a retired police officer, hurried himself and his wife into the basement after receiving a tornado alert on his phone. There, he peeked out a window and watched aluminum siding being torn off a neighbor’s house. That’s when the tornado hit his house, stunning him.

“It’s like being inside of a snow globe,” he said. “Dust is flying. Water is flying. You can’t see anything. It’s like you’re inside of a cloud.”

Video posted on Twitter showed a trail of destruction along a commercial strip in Gaylord, which is about 175 miles north of Lansing.

Andy Sullivan, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord, said there was “no doubt” that a tornado had struck and said it was a “very strong one at that.” He said the office had assessment teams in the community. He added that it was unusual to have a tornado strike Northern Michigan.

The tornado, which hit around 3:45 p.m., “heavily damaged” the commercial district, he said.

The Michigan State Police said on Twitter that trees and power lines were blocking roadways and reported that “multiple homes and businesses” were damaged.

Lieutenant Carroll said that officials were urging people to stay away and that numerous ambulance crews from around the region had responded. He said it appeared the entire community had been struck, including a mobile home park that he described as “pretty bad.”

Michael Ryan, a council member who lives across the street from his colleague, Mr. Ouellette, said the tornado ripped shingles off his roof and shattered his windows. On Friday evening, he sat in his car in his neighborhood and surveyed the destruction. He saw trees snapped in half or torn down and downed power lines scattered throughout an area he estimated to be about four blocks by four blocks.

“The house next to me is collapsed,” he said. “Vic’s house is off its foundation. The house next to it is still standing but the roof’s gone.”

Mayor Todd Sharrard said Friday evening that Gaylord had lost power and some injured residents were being rerouted to other nearby hospitals.

“The tornado stayed on the ground for a good two miles,” he said. “Right through the heart of our town.”

Mr. Sharrard said emergency crews from across Northern Michigan were helping in the rescue and cleanup effort. He said city officials were working on instituting a curfew because “we’re getting too many gawkers.”

Scott Distler, the senior pastor at E-Free Church in Gaylord, said that the west side of the city had sustained a lot of damage. “There are areas that have been leveled,” he said. “And we know of at least two families in our church who have lost their houses.”

The E-Free Church is serving as a shelter for the community, and Mr. Distler said that many people had sought refuge at the church.

In the 11 years he has lived in Gaylord, he said, he had never seen a tornado like this.

“This is Northern Michigan, we’re used to blizzards,” Mr. Distler said. “Not tornadoes.”

In a statement on Twitter, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said: “To the entire Gaylord community — Michigan is with you. We will do what it takes to rebuild.”

Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.

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