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One dead, more than 40 injured as Michigan tornado causes ‘catastrophic’ damage

<i>Steven Bischer</i><br/>A tornado quickly moved through Gaylord in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan
Steven Bischer
Steven Bischer
A tornado quickly moved through Gaylord in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan

By Paradise Afshar, Andy Rose and Sharif Paget, CNN

A tornado quickly moved through the town of Gaylord in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan Friday afternoon, leaving one person dead and 43 injured, officials said.

Lt. Jim Gorno of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources described the scene in the area as being “catastrophic,” with cars flipped over and structures destroyed.

Munson Healthcare spokesperson Brian Lawson told CNN 23 injured patients were taken to Otsego Memorial Hospital and 12 to Grayling Hospital. Eight people were treated at other hospitals outside Munson system, he said. Michigan State Police said the number of injured is 44.

The city is under a curfew until 8 a.m., officials said.

The tornado hit the area about 3:48 p.m., weather officials said.

“It is a busy downtown area, and it went right through it,” Gorno told CNN.

“We aren’t used to it up here,” he said. “We don’t have sirens like in other parts of the country.”

According to the state’s website, Michigan averages just 15 tornadoes per year.

Gaylord council member Jordan Awrey said some establishments and businesses in the area now look like they’d “never been there.”

“The town is devastated,” said Awrey, adding he is confident his community will be able to come together and rebuild.

The council member’s brother, Gabe Awrey, was driving home when the tornado hit. By the time he made it to his street, he saw it had been blocked off. The 25-year-old then parked his car across the street before making his way home on foot.

“When I first arrived there was debris in the front and backyard,” he said, adding cars belonging to his neighbors were also destroyed. “The building directly to the west of us, their whole roof blew onto our property.”

Witness describes seeing and hearing the twister

Video taken by Gaylord resident Brandon Smith shows debris being tossed in the air after the tornado touched down.

Smith said he received a tornado alert on his phone and he went outside to see where it was.

“I looked outside and didn’t see too much going on and minutes after that alert went off I looked over the other side of the house and that’s when I saw it coming over the trees,” he said.

Smith, who estimates he was maybe a quarter of a mile from the tornado, described it sounding like a freight train. He also said it sounded like an air compressor going off in the garage. “I imagine it was deafening for those in its path,” he said.

“We’re used to snow and that doesn’t bother us but to see that type of weather just shocked everyone,” Smith said.

“To be standing outside my house, to see it in person was just unbelievable. I was in shock and in awe, I was thinking, ‘holy cow it’s right in front of my face,’ ” he added.

Governor pledges to help

National Weather Service meteorologist Sean Christensen told CNN the twister hit west of the city center near Interstate 75 and moved east-northeast.

Gov. Gretchen Witmer said her heart goes out to the people impacted by the storm.

“To the entire Gaylord community — Michigan is with you. We will do what it takes to rebuild,” she tweeted.

About 35 percent of utility customers in Otsego County — which includes Gaylord — were experiencing an electricity outage Friday afternoon, according to the tracking website PowerOutage.us.

About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau. The village is about 235 miles north of Detroit.

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CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report.

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