Michigan tornado: Governor declares state of emergency after powerful tornado rips through northern city
The tornado – with peak winds of 150 mph – also injured 44 people as it passed through the town of Gaylord, which is about 60 miles east of Traverse City in the state’s Lower Peninsula, causing what officials describe as “catastrophic” damage.
“It destroyed an insane number of buildings and endangered so many lives,” said Gaylord City Council member Jordan Awrey. “The city is devastated.”
Both victims were in the Nottingham Forest mobile home park and were in their 60s, according to Michigan State Police. Authorities are still working to notify the family of one of the victims.
The tornado touched down in a busy area of town, home to shops, restaurants and retail outlets, some of which were destroyed.
Photos of the damage show streets littered with debris, businesses with torn roofs and walls, and cars completely overturned. Roads were also blocked by downed trees and power lines.
“It’s a busy downtown, and he went through it,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lt. Jim Gorno, describing the aftermath as “catastrophic.”
“Outside of the mobile home park (in Nottingham Forest), there’s probably 95 per cent destruction in there,” Otsego County Fire Department Chief Chris Martin said. “There had been trailers picked up and flipped on top of each other and, you know, just a really big debris field of the trailers.”
Brandon Smith, a 26-year-old resident of Gaylord, said he was standing outside his home about a quarter mile from the tornado when he saw it roll over some trees, recalling it sounding like a freight train.
“I imagine it was deafening to anyone who got in his way,” Smith said. “We are used to snow and we don’t mind it, but seeing this type of weather shocked everyone.”
Michigan averages just 15 tornadoes a year, according to the state’s website. About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau.
“It’s in northern Michigan, it’s very rare that we get a tornado,” said Gabe Awrey, a resident and brother of the council member.
Thirty-five people were taken to hospitals in their system for treatment, and another eight people were treated at facilities elsewhere, Munson Healthcare spokesman Brian Lawson told CNN. Michigan State Police said the number of injured was 44.
Gaylord was under curfew until 8 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
Video taken by Dawn Grubaugh, who was in her truck with her partner as the tornado headed their way, shows the aftermath of the destruction.
The couple had been hiding in a car wash and when they got out of their vehicle, they noticed that buildings around them, including a Hobby Lobby, had been destroyed.
More than a dozen homes and up to 50 cars were lost to the tornado, Gaylord Mayor Todd Sharrard told CNN, adding that cleanup efforts were underway.
“The Gaylord community is very, very strong and very tight-knit,” Sharrard said. “The cleanup is underway as we speak. Between everyone and anyone with a chainsaw, rack or shovel is cleaning up our community.”
Governor declares state of emergency
The tornado was rated EF-3 based on a National Weather Service preliminary damage survey. Weather Service meteorologists are continuing to assess the damage and will release additional details as the investigation continues.
The tornado struck west of downtown near Interstate 75 and moved east-northeast, Weather Services meteorologist Sean Christensen told CNN.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the county following the tornado.
“We are making available all state resources in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts,” Whitmer said at a Friday night press conference in Gaylord.
“My heart goes out to the families and small businesses affected by the tornado and severe weather in Gaylord,” she said on social media. “To the entire Gaylord community, Michigan stands with you. We will do whatever it takes to rebuild.”
CNN’s Sharif Paget, Steve Almasy, Michelle Watson, Rebekah Riess. and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.