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Michigan town ravaged by rare tornado

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A rare tornado barreled through a small northern Michigan community on Friday, inflicting injuries, flipping vehicles, tearing the roofs off buildings and causing other damage.

On Friday afternoon, at about 3:40 p.m., the tornado was confirmed to be moving across northern Michigan. It traveled approximately 15 minutes wrecking havoc in its wake. At least one large building collapsed while several cars were flipped and destroyed. A mobile trailer park was also heavily damaged.

Ambulances were taking injured people to hospitals, though no deaths were confirmed, the Michigan State Police said.

More than 25,000 people across northern Lower Michigan were without power by early Friday evening.

The tornado struck Gaylord, a community of roughly 4,200 people about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

This image provided by Steven Bischer, shows an upended vehicle following an apparent tornado, Friday, May 20, 2022, in Gaylord, Mich.
(Steven Bischer via AP)

Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the twister seemed to appear above him.

“There are roofs ripped off businesses, a row of industrial-type warehouses,” Thrasher said. “RVs were flipped upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles heading from the east side of town.”

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

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

Multiple homes were damaged and trees, and power lines were down and blocking roads, State Police said on Twitter. Images shared on social media showed multiple RVs shredded to pieces in a parking lot.

Mike Klepadlo, owner of Alter-Start North, a car repair shop, 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. “Twenty feet (6 meters) of the back wall is gone. The whole roof is missing. At least half the building is still here. It’s bad.”

Video posted on social media showed extensive damage along Gaylord’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.

Otsego Memorial Hospital said it had no comment about any people seeking treatment for injuries. The Red Cross was setting up a shelter at a church.

Severe weather is very unusual in the northern Michigan region. 

Jim Keysor, a Gaylord-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said extreme winds are uncommon because the Great Lakes suck energy out of storms, especially early in spring when the lakes are very cold.

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

The last time Gaylord suffered severe damage from a wind storm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100 mph, the weather service said.

Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teen daughter sought safety in a restroom at a Culver’s. Windows of the fast food restaurant were blown out when they emerged, and her pickup truck had been flipped on its roof in the parking lot.

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

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued the following statement in response to the severe weather across Northern Michigan and the tornado in Gaylord.

“We are monitoring the extreme weather situation in Gaylord and Northern Michigan closely,” Whitmer said. “As Michigan State Police have noted, trees and power lines are down, and multiple homes and businesses have been damaged.”

“The MSP urge Michiganders to avoid the Gaylord area,” Whitmer continued “Emergency crews are responding to help residents and assess the damage. Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings remain in effect throughout Northern Michigan. Our thoughts are with the impacted communities and first responders and utility workers who are working hard to keep everyone safe.”

The Governor also shared on Twitter that her heart goes out to the families and businesses that have been hurt by the tornado.

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“To the entire Gaylord community — Michigan is with you,” she said. “We will do what it takes to rebuild.”

The Michigan State Police tweeted sharing that the City of Gaylord has imposed a 7:00 PM curfew on Friday that will be lifted Saturday morning at 8:00 A.M.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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