A tornado that hammered a northern Michigan town has injured at least 23 people and killed at least one person, authorities said. Munson Healthcare spokesman Brian Lawson said Friday that he had no details about the person who was killed or the conditions of those who were hurt by the tornado that rushed through Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 roughly 230 miles northwest of Detroit, at around 3:45 p.m.
Lawson said the pace of people being brought to Gaylord-Otsego Memorial Hospital had slowed since the hours right after the storm.
“From what I’m gathering things have stabilized a bit,” he said.
The rare tornado tore through the community on Friday, flipping vehicles, tearing the roofs off buildings and causing other damage.
Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the twister seemed to appear above him.
“There are roofs ripped off businesses, a row of industrial-type warehouses,” Thrasher said. “RVs were flipped upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles heading from the east side of town.”
He said he ran into the store to ride it out.
“My adrenaline was going like crazy,” Thrasher said. “In less than five minutes it was over.”
The tornado damaged multiple homes and downed trees and power lines that blocked roads, authorities said. Images shared on social media showed multiple recreational vehicles shredded to pieces in a parking lot.
Mike Klepadlo, owner of Alter-Start North, a car repair shop, said he and his workers took cover in a bathroom.
“I’m lucky I’m alive. It blew the back off the building,” he said. “Twenty feet of the back wall is gone. The whole roof is missing. At least half the building is still here. It’s bad.”
Video posted on social media showed extensive damage along Gaylord’s Main Street. One building appeared to be largely 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 electrical wires and parts of a Marathon gas station, was scattered all along the street.
Otsego Memorial Hospital was not damaged but was running on generator power, spokesman Brian Lawson said.
He said he didn’t know how many injured people were being treated at the hospital. The Red Cross, meanwhile, was setting up a shelter at a church.
Jim Keysor, a Gaylord-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said extreme winds are uncommon in that part of Michigan because the Great Lakes suck energy out of storms, especially early in spring when the lakes are very cold.
“Many kids and young adults would have never experienced any direct severe weather if they had lived in Gaylord their entire lives,” he said.
The last time Gaylord had a severe wind storm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100 mph, Keysor said.
Brandie Slough, 42, said she and a teen daughter sought safety in a restroom at a Culver’s. Windows of the fast food restaurant were blown out when they emerged, and her pickup truck had been flipped on its roof in the parking lot.
“We shook our heads in disbelief but are thankful to be safe. At that point, who cares about the truck,” Slough said.
Gaylord, known as the “Alpine Village,” is set to celebrate its 100th birthday this year, with a centennial celebration that will include a parade and open house at City Hall later this summer.
The community also holds the annual Alpenfest in July, an Alpine-inspired celebration honoring the city’s heritage and a partnership with a sister city in Switzerland.