Tornado tears through Michigan, killing 1 and injuring 23

A tornado ripped through a small northern Michigan community on Friday, killing at least one person and injuring at least 23 others as it overturned vehicles, ripped roofs off buildings and downed trees and power lines.

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

Mike Klepadlo, owner of Alter-Start North, an 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. “twenty feet [6 metres] from the back wall has disappeared. The whole roof is missing. At least half of the building is still there. It’s bad.”

“There was a funnel cloud heading our way”

Emma Goddard, 15, said she was at work making a smoothie for a customer when she received a telephone 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.

“Not even two minutes later, I was pouring the smoothie when suddenly my co-worker’s mother rushed through the front door of Tropical Smoothie and shouted at us to run to the back of the building because there had a funnel cloud heading our way,” Goddard told The Associated Press via text message.

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

“I was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with my seven co-workers, two of my co-workers’ parents and a lady from Door Dash picking up her smoothies.”

After about 15 minutes, they left the cooler and smelled natural gas, she said.

“As soon as we got out, we were shocked to find some of our cars in pieces and isolated all over the ground,” Goddard wrote, noting that three nearby businesses had been destroyed.

Brian Lawson, spokesman for Munson Healthcare, said Gaylord-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.

Lawson said the pace of people being brought to the hospital slowed Friday night.

“From what I understand things have stabilized a bit,” he said.

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

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 was setting 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 were blown out when they appeared and his van was overturned on its roof in the parking lot.

“We shook our heads in disbelief, but thankful to be safe. At this point, who cares about the truck,” Slough said.

“In less than 5 minutes, it was over”

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,” Thrasher said. “In less than five minutes, it was over.”

In this photo provided by Angela Russ, severe weather damage is seen in Gaylord on Friday afternoon. (Angela Russ via AP)

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.

“Many children and young adults would never have experienced direct severe weather if they had lived in Gaylord all their lives,” he said.

The last time Gaylord experienced a severe windstorm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100mph, 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.

Gaylord, known as the ‘Alpine Village’, is due to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, with a centenary celebration that will include a parade and an open house at Town Hall later this summer.

The community also hosts the annual Alpenfest in July, an Alpine-inspired celebration honoring the city’s heritage and partnering with a sister city in Switzerland.