Deadly tornado damages homes and knocks out power in Michigan

A second person was killed in a tornado that hit northern Michigan, authorities said Saturday, as crews searched a mobile home park that was all but destroyed by a rare twister in an area with no weather sirens.

The person, in his 70s, lived at the Nottingham Forest mobile home park in Gaylord, Michigan, which was one of the first sites hit by the tornado on Friday afternoon, Michigan State Police Lt. Derrick said. Carroll.

The first reported death, another person in his 70s, also lived there, Carroll said.

“There have been trailers picked up and dumped on top of each other. Just a very large debris field,” said Otsego County Fire Chief Chris Martin. “Teams are out there right now doing a side quest with heavy gear.”

He said “there’s probably 95 percent destruction there.”

State of emergency in force

Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 people, is located about 230 miles northwest of Detroit.

More than 40 people were injured. Carroll said at least one person was not counted Saturday morning, though that person did not live in the mobile home park.

Theresa Haske sorts through the rubble of what was her garage after a tornado tore through Gaylord, Michigan, on Friday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens. (John Russell/Detroit News/The Associated Press)

Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency, making more state resources available. Thousands of people in the area were without power and some roads were still clogged with fallen utility poles and other debris.

“We have a lot of debris to clean up,” Carroll said.

Roofs and walls of some businesses in the tornado’s path were shattered. Cars and trucks were turned on their sides or turned over completely. Video posted online showed a dark funnel cloud approaching as anxious drivers looked on or slowly drove away.

The National Weather Service rated the tornado EF3, on a scale of 0 to 5, with top winds of 140 mph.

Betty Wisniewski, 87, avoided injury even though the tornado significantly damaged her home, said her son, Steve Wisniewski, who lives next door.

“Fortunately she was fine, rosary in hand,” he said from a ladder as he put plastic on his windows. “She was praying. Pretty amazing.”

Gaylord Police Chief Frank Claeys said the immediate moments after the tornado hit were difficult for first responders.

“We were looking at places where we knew the occupants. We were calling them by name,” Claeys said. “It’s so much more personal when our officers get to know the people who live in those homes.”

Community has no tornado sirens

Gaylord doesn’t have tornado sirens. Carroll said anyone with a cell phone received a “code red” warning from the National Weather Service about 10 minutes before the tornado hit.

John Boris of the Gaylord weather service post said the tornado passed through the community in about three minutes, but was in the region for 26 minutes, a “pretty long” time.

“We don’t have a lot of tornadoes,” said Boris, the science and operations officer. “In the state of Michigan, in general, we have an average of about 15 or more [a year], and more of them are in the south of the state than in the north. It’s quite unusual.”

This image provided by Steven Bischer shows an overturned vehicle after the Gaylord tornado. (Steven Bischer/The Associated Press)

Boris said warm 80-degree air early Friday and strong winds moving east across Lake Michigan were key conditions that produced the tornado.

A link to climate change probably doesn’t fit, he said.

“It’s very difficult to attribute something as specific as this to a large-scale signal like that,” Boris said. “If we had them more often, that could be a sign.”

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