Rare northern Michigan tornado kills two, injures more than 40, flipping cars and tearing off roofs

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

The twister hit Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 people roughly 370 kilometres north-west of Detroit, at around 3:45pm.

Mike Klepadlo, who owns the car-repair shop Alter-Start North, said he and his workers took cover in a bathroom. 

“I’m lucky I’m alive. It blew the back off the building,” he said. 

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

Thinking the weather outside looked “stormy, but not scary,” she dismissed it and returned to what she was doing. Her mother then called and she assured her mum she was OK.

Two minutes later, she was pouring a customer’s smoothie when her coworker’s mother rushed in yelling for them to get to the back of the building, Ms Goddard told The Associated Press by text message.

an upturned car an be seen outside a culver's with the shop behind's roof caved in from a storm
Windows of this Culver’s Restaurant were blown in as people took shelter inside. (AP: Steven Bischer)

They took shelter in the walk-in cooler, where they could hear windows shattering.

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

Brian Lawson, a spokesman for Munson Healthcare, said Otsego Memorial Hospital was treating 23 people injured by the tornado. He didn’t know the conditions of the injured.

The Michigan State Patrol confirmed that two people in their 70s had been killed, both residents of Nottingham Forest mobile home park.

Authorities said in a tweet that more than 40 others were hurt and were being treated at area hospitals. The patrol planned to hold a briefing 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 materialise out of a cloud as nervous drivers looked on or slowly drove away, uncertain of its path.

part of a home is broken into pieces with wood beams scattered around the yard outside
Homes were damaged throughout the city. (AP: John Flesher)

Other video showed extensive damage along the city’s Main Street. One 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 scattered all along the street.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at a church.

Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teen daughter sought safety in a rest room at a Culver’s. Windows of the fast-food restaurant were blown out when they emerged, and her pick-up truck had been flipped 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 seemed to appear above him.

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

“RVs were flipped upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles heading from the east side of town.”

He said he ran into the store to ride it out.

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

Damage to Gaylord, Michigan after a tornado
The severe wind storm was the city’s first since 1998.(AP: Steven Bischer)

Extreme winds are uncommon in this part of Michigan because the Great Lakes suck energy out of storms, especially early in 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 wind storm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100mph, Mr Keysor said.

He said the conditions that spawned Friday’s twister included a cold front moving in from Wisconsin and hitting hot and humid air over Gaylord, with the added ingredient of turning winds in the lower part of the atmosphere.

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


Posted , updated