Two people were killed after a powerful tornado tore roofs off buildings and flipped cars in a northern Michigan city on Friday, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency for the area.
The tornado also injured 44 people as it tore through the town of Gaylord, which is about 60 miles east of Traverse City in the state’s lower peninsula, causing what authorities describe as “catastrophic” damage.
“It took down an unbelievable number of buildings and put so many lives in danger,” said Jordan Awrey, a member of the Gaylord city council. “The city is devastated.”
Both victims were at the Nottingham Forest mobile home park and are in their 70s, according to Michigan State Police. Officials are still working to notify the family of one of the victims.
The tornado touched down in a bustling part of town, home to shops, restaurants and retail stores, some of which were destroyed.
Photos of the damage show streets littered with debris, businesses with roofs and walls ripped off, and cars completely overturned. Roads were also blocked by downed trees and power lines.
“It’s a busy downtown area and he went right through it,” said Lt. Jim Gorno of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, describing the aftermath as “catastrophic.”
“Outside the (Nottingham Forest) mobile home park there is probably 95% destruction there,” Otsego County Fire Department Chief Chris Martin said. “There were trailers picked up and dumped on top of each other and, you know, just a very large debris field from the trailers.”
Brandon Smith, a 26-year-old Gaylord resident, said he was standing outside his home a quarter mile from the tornado when he saw it roll over some trees and remembered it sounded like a freight train.
“I imagine it was deafening to those who were in his way,” Smith said. “We’re used to snow and that doesn’t bother us, but seeing that kind of weather just shocked everyone.”
Michigan averages just 15 tornadoes per year, the state’s website shows. About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau.
“It’s northern Michigan, it’s very rare that we get a tornado,” said Gabe Awrey, a resident and brother of the councilman.
Munson Healthcare spokesman Brian Lawson told CNN that 35 people were taken to hospitals in its system for treatment and another eight people were treated at facilities elsewhere. Michigan State Police put the number of injured at 44.
Gaylord is under a curfew until 8 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.
A video taken by Dawn Grubaugh, who was in her truck with her partner as the tornado headed toward them, shows the aftermath of the destruction.
In video obtained by CNN affiliate WPBN, Grubaugh can be heard screaming as he recorded the tornado sweeping through the city, narrowly missing them.
The couple had taken refuge inside a car wash, and when they got out of their vehicle they noticed that the buildings around them, including a Hobby Lobby, had been vandalized.
“A mass of debris, like we have insulation glued to our truck and it just piles up,” Grubaugh told WPBN. “We quickly snuck in and got into the car wash, and just so we didn’t get hit by more debris, and when we stopped, I zoomed my camera forward and we saw the tornado come through and take out about…eight different campers, and all , car carriers, things like that within this little area that was completely wiped out.”
More than a dozen homes and as many as 50 cars were lost to the tornado, Gaylord Mayor Todd Sharrard told CNN, adding that cleanup efforts are underway.
“The Gaylord community is very, very strong and very close-knit,” Sharrard said. “Cleanup is happening as we speak right now. Between everyone and anyone who has a chainsaw, a rack or a shovel, they are simply cleaning up our community.”
Governor declares state of emergency
The tornado has been rated EF-3, with 140 mph winds, according to a preliminary damage survey from the National Weather Service (NWS). NWS forecasters are continuing their damage assessment and will release additional details as the survey continues.
“The strongest line segment generated a measured 76 mph wind gust at Frankfort Light and continued to produce damaging wind gusts in Leelanau and Antrim counties as it moved rapidly northeast,” the NWS said.
The tornado hit just west of downtown near Interstate 75 and moved from east to northeast, National Weather Service meteorologist Sean Christensen told CNN.
More than 6,000 homes and businesses remained without power in Otsego County early Saturday morning after the tornado, according to PowerOutage.us
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the county in the wake of the tornado.
“We are making all state resources available in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts,” Whitmer said during a news conference Friday night in Gaylord.
The governor too expressed his support for those affected in the community.
“My heart goes out to the families and small businesses affected by the tornado and severe weather in Gaylord,” he said on social media. “To the entire Gaylord community: Michigan stands with you. We will do whatever it takes to rebuild.”