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Cleanup Begins After 11 Tornadoes in Western Michigan

The damage in Portage, among the hardest hit areas, was widespread, leaving several businesses inoperable, including a barbershop that was ripped in half. City officials continued to assess the damage on Wednesday.

A person moving fallen tree branches in front of a house.
Pete Laforest, Portage, cleans up damage from a Tuesday night tornado at a property belonging to his father-in-law, Jeff Sackett, in Portage, Wednesday, May 8, 2024.
Andy Morrison, The Detroit News/TNS
(TNS) - A day after as many as 11 tornadoes landed in west Michigan, residents and authorities struggled to deal with the aftermath of significant damage to homes and businesses as well as thousands of power outages.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Marilyn Williams, a 69-year-old resident of Portage. “It’s unreal to wake up to it, even after seeing it last night.”

Two tornadoes were reported in both Portage in Kalamazoo County and Dowagiac in Cass County, according to the National Weather Service. The weather service said one tornado also was reported in Centreville, Colon, Leonidas, Mendon and Wasepi in St. Joseph County. Another was reported in Sherwood in Branch County, and there was one in Comstock in Kalamazoo County.

The damage in Portage, among the hardest hit areas, was widespread, leaving several businesses inoperable. City officials, meanwhile, continued to assess the damage on Wednesday.

At Jude's Barbershop on West Centre Avenue in Portage, the shop is a "total loss," office manager Amanda Renis said.

"Half the building is ripped off, the ceiling is partially gone and there's a gas leak," Renis told The News Wednesday morning. "Jude’s has been open for more than 20 years, but this location on Centre in the strip mall is newer, only four years old. Our other location right down the road is fully operable, thankfully."

The first tornado was reported at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday in Dowagiac and the last at 7:22 in Comstock, NWS said.

The tornadoes downed trees and power lines and scattered debris from buildings and homes. Late Tuesday, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller III said up to 20 people reportedly were hospitalized for injuries from blown glass and debris. No fatalities were reported, he said.

On Wednesday, he said in a statement that the county's government has declared a local state of emergency. He also said Portage Public Safety has reported that door-to-door checks are being conducted in the hardest-hit areas. "As recovery efforts continue, various agencies and organizations are working tirelessly to restore normalcy to affected areas and assist those in need," he said.

The tornadoes caused substantial damage in several areas, including Centre Street up to Shearing andWestnedge up to Angling Road, according to the sheriff's office. Fuller said Wednesday a FedEx building on Portage Rd. and the Pavilion Estates mobile home park both sustained extensive damage.

At one point, employees were trapped inside the FedEx building, county officials said. They also said entire homes were destroyed at the Pavilion Estates mobile home park. The county confirmed Wednesday that 176 homes on the property were damaged and 40 percent of those were heavily damaged.

"Portage first responders have ensured all employees are safely out of the FedEx building," the sheriff said. "And our teams have also completed their search and rescue at Pavilion Estates and have confirmed 16 to 20 injuries at this time, with no casualties."

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army has established two shelters: First Assembly of God, located at 5550 Oakland Drive, and Radiant Church, located at 995 Romence Road. Each has a capacity of 100 people.

The Kalamazoo County sheriff said Portage police were investigating damage to the FedEx facility on Portage Road.

Residents across the street from the site spent their Wednesday morning clearing wreckage on their own.

Harsh winds uprooted trees in Williams’ front and back yards on Lansing Avenue in Portage, tearing away chunks of driveway in one fell swoop, she said. No one on the block was injured, Williams said.

As retired electricians, Williams said she and her husband were just glad to have supportive friends willing to step in and help after the storm passed.

Upheaval from the storm changed Pedro Martinez’s plans for Wednesday, forcing him to spend the morning clearing his own driveway, the 67-year-old resident on Ramona Avenue said.

The violent storm downed several trees and some electrical wires on his street, though he hadn’t heard of any injuries or casualties yet, Martinez said.

Martinez and his family thought the alerts on their phones were just false alarms until the storm was practically on their doorstep, he said.

Martinez’ grandson, 9-year-old Daniel Martinez, said he was scared of these storm at first but still eager to help his family clean up the next day.

“I was running to my basement,” Daniel Martinez said, adding the fear had shifted to excitement as he recounted the experience to friends the next day. “I sent them a picture of the destruction.”

Michael Browers, 59, spent his morning with family helping him clear fallen trees, said the Ramona Avenue resident living a few doors down from Martinez.

More than a dozen pine trees fell in his backyard, while one large tree fell directly onto his roof, he said.

The damage was incalculable so far, he said.

Browers and his family were especially concerned their insurance might not be able to cover impending repairs, he said.

“Being disabled, I can make a couple cuts, go sit for a couple hours, then make a couple cuts and go sit for a couple hours,” he said.

The only thing Browers felt he could do now in the aftermath of the storm was to take things one day at a time, he said.

“I’ve lived here about 35 years, and I haven’t ever really taken it seriously,” Martinez said of the extreme weather. “I will now.”

As neighbors rushed to clear damage, crews tend to thousands without power Wednesday.

There were 127 outages reported in Consumers Energy's service area and about 22,000 people affected, mainly in Portage, Colon and St. Joseph. Elsewhere, DTE Energy reported Wednesday afternoon it had more than 5,600 power interruptions, mainly in Fraser, Harrison Township and St. Clair Shores. Power was expected to be restored by 10 p.m.

Clean-up crews are on the ground with assistance from Michigan State Police, Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Department, City of Kalamazoo Public Safety, West Michigan 5th District Technical Rescue Team, LifeEMS and others.

The city of Portage non-emergency offices were closed on Wednesday. Those in need of assistance with sheltering or other human service needs should call 2-1-1.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Branch and Cass counties.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy urged residents to follow cleanup guidelines set by the state.

“In times of significant weather incidents, we are keeping the health and safety of Michiganders at the forefront of cleanup efforts,” EGLE Director Phil Roos said in a statement. “Safe debris disposal is an essential part of this storm response process and protective of our state’s environment.”

The Better Business Bureau In Western Michigan also warned homeowners "to beware of scammers, sometimes called 'storm chasers,' when looking to hire help to clean up. Homeowners should be wary of anyone going door-to-door offering storm cleanup assistance. They should also use caution when looking on social media for help. These situations prompt good-intentioned neighbors to lend a helping hand. It can also bring out those who are looking to take advantage of people during a vulnerable time."

As cleanup continues, clearer weather is forecast in most of the affected area.

"After a stormy Tuesday, tranquil weather will return for Wednesday with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s and 70s," meteorologists with the weather service's Grand Rapids office said.

Rain is expected to return Thursday as high temperatures fall to around 60, according to the weather service.


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