Gaylord, Mich. (AP) — A rare northern Michigan tornado ripped through a small community on Friday, killing at least one person and injuring more than 40 others as it overturned vehicles and tore through buildings roofs, fallen trees and power lines.
The cyclone hit Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 people, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northwest of Detroit at about 3:45 p.m.
Mike Klepadlo, who owns auto repair shop Alter-Start North, said he and his workers took shelter in the bathroom.
“I’m lucky I’m still alive. It blew the building away from the back,” he said. “The twenty-foot (6-meter) back wall is gone. The entire roof is gone. At least half the building is still here. It’s not good.”
Emma Goddard, 15, said she was working at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe when she got a call alert about a tornado. Thinking the weather outside looked “stormy, but not terrible,” she ignored it and went back to what she was doing. Then her mother called her and she reassured her mother that she was okay.
Goddard told The Associated Press via text message that she was pouring a customer’s smoothie two minutes later when her colleague’s mom rushed in and yelled for them to go to the back of the building. They hid in walk-in coolers, where they could hear windows shattering.
“I huddled side by side with seven of my colleagues, the parents of two of my colleagues and a lady from Door Dash to get her smoothie.”
When they got out of the cooler and walked outside about 15 minutes later, they saw “some of our cars were smashed to pieces and there was insulation all over the ground,” Goddard said. Three nearby businesses were destroyed, she said.
Brian Lawson, a spokesman for Munson Healthcare, said Otsego Memorial Hospital was treating 23 people injured in the tornado, one of whom died. He did not know the condition of the injured or the name of the deceased.
Michigan State Police confirmed one death and said in a tweet that more than 40 others were injured and treated at area hospitals. State Police are scheduled 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 black funnel cloud emerging from the cloud, unsure of its path, as nervous drivers watched or slowly drove away.
Other videos showed extensive damage to the city’s main street. A building appears to have mostly 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 a power line and part of a Marathon gas station, was scattered across the street.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter in a church.
Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teenage daughter sought safety in the restroom at Culver’s. The windows of the fast food restaurant were blown away as soon as they appeared, and her pickup truck was overturned on the roof of the parking lot.
“We shook our heads in disbelief, but were thankful we were safe. Who cares about the truck until then,” Slough said.
Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the tornado appeared to be over his head.
“There are businesses with their roofs ripped off, a row of industrial-style warehouses,” Thrasher said. “The RV was upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles coming from the east side of town.”
He said he ran into the store and biked out.
“My adrenaline is going crazy,” Thrasher said. “It’s over in less than five minutes.”
Gaylord-based National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kessall said high winds are uncommon in this part of Michigan because the Great Lakes draw energy from storms, especially in the early spring when the lakes are very cold.
“Many kids and young adults would never experience any immediate severe weather if they lived in Gaylord all their lives,” he said.
The last time Gaylord was hit by a severe storm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100 mph, Keysor said. Conditions created by Friday’s tornado included a cold front entering from Wisconsin and hitting hot, humid air over Gaylord and increasing wind direction in the lower part of the atmosphere, he said.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Otsego County to provide the county with additional state resources.
Gaylord, known as the “Alpine Village,” will celebrate its 100th birthday this year with a parade and open house celebration at City Hall later this summer.
The community also hosts its annual Alpenfest in July, an Alpine-inspired celebration that honors the city’s heritage and creates partnerships with sister cities in Switzerland.
White reported from Detroit. Associated Press reporters Corey Williams in Detroit, Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis, Sara Burnett in Chicago and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the agency that confirmed the death was Michigan State Police, not the State Patrol.