Rare tornado in northern Michigan kills one, injures more than 40, flips cars and rips roofs off

A rare northern Michigan tornado tore through a small community on Friday, killing at least one person and injuring more than 40 others as it flipped vehicles, tore roofs off buildings and downed trees and power lines.

The tornado hit Gaylord, a town of about 4,200 people about 370 kilometers northwest of Detroit, around 3:45 p.m.

Mike Klepadlo, owner of the Alter-Start North auto repair shop, said he and his employees hid in a bathroom.

“I’m lucky to be alive. It blew up the back of the building,” he said.

Emma Goddard, 15, said she was working at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe when she received a phone alert about the tornado.

Thinking the weather outside looked “stormy, but not scary”, she dismissed it and went back to what she was doing. Her mother then called and she assured her mother that she was fine.

Two minutes later, she was pouring a customer’s smoothie when her colleague’s mother rushed over to yell at them to get to the back of the building, Ms Goddard told The Associated Press via text message.

The windows of this Culver’s restaurant were blown out as people took shelter inside. (PA: Steven Bischer)

They took shelter in the cold room, where they could hear the windows breaking.

When they left the cooler about 15 minutes later and came out, they saw “some of our cars in pieces and isolated all over the ground,” Ms Goddard said. Three nearby businesses were destroyed, she said.

Brian Lawson, a spokesman for Munson Healthcare, said Otsego Memorial Hospital was treating 23 people injured by the tornado and one person was killed. He did not know the condition of the injured or the name of the deceased.

The Michigan State Patrol confirmed one person was killed, saying in a tweet that more than 40 others were injured and treated at area hospitals. The patrol planned to hold a briefing on Saturday morning.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Mayor Todd Sharrard said. “I’m numb.”

Video posted online showed a dark funnel cloud materializing from a cloud as nervous drivers watched or slowly drove away, unsure of its path.

part of a house is broken into pieces with wooden beams scattered in the yard outside
Homes were damaged throughout the city. (PA: John Flesher)

Another video showed extensive damage along the town’s main street. A building appeared to be largely collapsed and a Goodwill store was badly damaged.

A collapsed utility pole lay on the side of the road and debris, including what appeared to be electrical wires and parts of a Marathon gas station, was strewn all along the street.

The Red Cross set up a shelter in a church.

Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teenage daughter sought safety in a Culver’s toilet. The windows of the fast food restaurant had been blown out as they left, and his van had been overturned on its roof in the parking lot.

Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the tornado appeared above him.

“There are roofs ripped off businesses, a row of industrial-type warehouses,” Thrasher said.

“The motorhomes were overturned and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles coming from the east of the city.”

He said he ran into the store to get out.

“My adrenaline was going crazy,” Mr. Thrasher said. “In less than five minutes, it was over.”

Damage in Gaylord, Michigan after a tornado
The severe windstorm was the city’s first since 1998.(PA: Steven Bischer)

Extreme winds are rare in this part of Michigan because the Great Lakes suck up storm energy, especially in early spring when the lakes are very cold, said Jim Keysor, a Gaylord-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The last time Gaylord had a severe windstorm was in 1998, when straight-line winds hit 100mph, Mr Keysor said.

He said the conditions that spawned Friday’s tornado included a cold front coming from Wisconsin and hitting warm, moist air over Gaylord, with the added ingredient of turning winds into the lower part of the atmosphere.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Otsego County, making more state resources available to the county.


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