GAYLORD, Mich. — A tornado that killed at least two people and injured dozens of others dropped out of the sky in far northern Michigan on Friday and onto a mobile home park before tearing a three-block hole through the small city of Gaylord.
Officials struggled to understand the extent of the damage in a region where tornadoes are not common as cleanup began on Saturday. Crews continued to search for survivors and one person was still missing.
“There have been trailers picked up and turned over on top of each other,” said Chief Chris Martin of the Otsego County Fire Department, who estimated that nearly all of the Nottingham Forest mobile home park, where the deaths were reported, had been destroyed.
Forecasters had warned of severe weather Friday but the tornado that struck Gaylord (population 4,300) came as a surprise. The severe thunderstorm warning that was issued in the afternoon was quickly upgraded into a tornado warning. Officials said there were no tornado sirens in the city, which is located approximately 230 miles northwest from Detroit. However, emergency notifications on cellphones alerted residents to the storm.
Within minutes, a tornado was on top of the mobile homes, ripping them apart and charging across the city from west to west. In a Hobby Lobby parking lot, cars were thrown on top of each other. A truck was upended next to a sign for a Culver’s restaurant. Police officers quickly found themselves searching for their neighbors in the rubble on the streets.
“We were calling them out by name, trying to see if they were still in their damaged homes,” said Chief Frank Claeys of the Gaylord Police Department. “And when you see that, it’s a lot more personal when our officers know the names of people who live in those homes.”
More than 40 people were treated for injuries at hospitals. Officials stated that there was a possibility that others were hurt, but they did not seek medical attention. Patients were diverted to other hospitals as the one in Gaylord was full.
On Saturday, the strip mall parking lots in Gaylord were still debris fields. A Goodwill store had a missing section of its front wall. Outside the entrance to a Tropical Smoothie Cafe, there were pieces of plywood and bricks broken.
Michigan has fewer tornadoes per year than many Midwestern states. John Boris from Gaylord’s National Weather Service office said that the state experienced an average of 15 tornadoes each year. Most of those occur well to the south of Gaylord, which is about 60 miles from the tip of the state’s Lower Peninsula.
“Up here, stuff like this doesn’t happen,” said Joshua Comoford, 22, who was handing out drinks to firefighters and volunteers on Saturday at the mobile home park. “You have rainstorms or severe winds. But what about a tornado actually ripping through my town? Nothing like that’s ever happened in my lifetime.”
Lt. Derrick Carroll was a spokesperson for the Michigan State Police. He said that power outages were continuing in Gaylord’s areas on Saturday and that a curfew would be in place that night. He said both victims were in their 70s and had connections to the mobile home park. One of the victims was found during a search using a cadaver-dog. Crews continued to search Saturday for a person reported missing from another region.
“The area is not safe,” Lieutenant Carroll said. “We’re in the process of stabilizing it.”
Luke Vander PloegReport from Gaylord Mitch SmithChicago
Source: NY Times