1 year later, Portland remembers tornado


PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — If you had been standing along the 3500 block of Grand River Avenue in Portland one year ago Wednesday, you would have hard time recognizing your surroundings.

There, the Goodwill store and a building that housed a business on the first floor and Sue and Chuck Burns’ home above were among the dozens of structures destroyed or damaged when an EF-1 tornado seemed to come out of nowhere on June 22, 2015.

There was no time to run as the tornado began to peel away the roof above the Burns’ living room.

“This wall over here had a six-foot mirror on it, and that wall started shaking,” Chuck Burns said Wednesday, describing the moments the tornado hit. “You could hear the nails creaking where the roof started to let go.”

“I’m looking at that mirror, saying, ‘It’s going to kill me,'” Sue Burns added. “Because windows were exploding. Pictures were falling off the walls.”

She said she can’t remember how she got off the living room couch onto the floor. The move likely saved her life.

Pictures taken from above in the aftermath show the exposed living room and the close call Sue Burns had with a heavy beam that held up the roof, which was lost to the wind.

An aerial view of a home that lost its roof in Portland when a tornado hit. (June 22, 2015)

“There’s the 40-foot beam,” Burns said, pointing to the images. “There’s the rocker recliner. And the beam is laying on the couch where I was.”

Neither she nor her husband were seriously hurt. In fact, no one was — there were only a few minor injuries and no deaths.

Ten months later, the Burns moved back into their rebuilt home above the space they now lease to a flower shop.

“I’m so thankful it hit us and not my daughter-in-law and my three granddaughters just … two blocks away from the storm,” Sue Burns said.

But the terror of that day has stayed with the couple. Both suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when the wind begins to blow

“There was one night, he yelled, ‘Get to the basement!’ My fingers would go numb,” Sue Burns said.

But while the aftermath brought challenges, it also brought renewed the couple’s faith.

“Faith in people; faith in God,” Sue Burns said.

“Can’t believe how many people came out and offered their homes, offered money.” Chuck Burns said.

The Burnses love their rebuilt home. but it’s the art on the dining room wall that means the most to them.

“‘Storms make trees take deeper roots,'” Sue Burns said, her eyes welling up with terns as she read the inscription on the wall, a gift from the couple’s children earlier this week. “It’s a quote from Dolly Parton and it was dated 6-22-15.”

“It will forever hang here,” she added.

Images told the stories of the tornado, which left a four-mile path of destruction in its wake that afternoon. One of those images was at ESI Heating and Cooling, where a stick about half an inch diameter tore through the vinyl siding and became embedded there.

“We were right behind this door,” owner Nick Bengel showed 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “That was literally three feet above my head.”>>PHOTOS: Tornado in Portland

Bengel and his office manager, Rebecca Henderson, were standing in the doorway when the storm hit.

“He slammed the door and grabbed me by the arm and he put me on the floor,” Henderson recalled, describing how her boss saved her from the wind.

It was over in minutes. But the story was just beginning.

“The scariest part was venturing out afterwards,” Henderson said. “It was almost like little animals kind of coming out.”

Shock soon turned to action. Like the Burnses, Bengel and Henderson say the community’s reaction was typical of Portland.

“In moments, you could hear chain saws. And then moments after that, here comes people with bottled water. And after that here’s people with food. After that it’s, ‘Do you need anything? Do you need anything?'” Henderson said.Inside woodtv.com:Complete Portland tornado coverage

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