Couple remembers the 1998 derecho

Kent County

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) – Twenty years ago Thursday, one of the most devastating storms to ever hit West Michigan came ashore and ripped a path of destruction through the region.

The derecho of 1998 hit the shore in Grand Haven around 5 a.m. that Sunday. Campers and travel trailers at Grand Haven State Park were tossed around like toys and a condominium complex in Spring Lake was leveled.

By the time the storm reached Walker, wind speeds had risen to an estimated 130 miles an hour.

The wind took off a portion of the roof over Keller Ford’s Service area, causing it to fly several yards before it landed on top of a car parked at the northeast corner of the lot.

Just a few blocks away, Jan and John Topping heard the wind.

“It just roared through here,” John Topping said. “And all of the sudden it’s just dead quiet. Not even a little breeze. Nothing within five minutes.”

The Topping’s Kingsbury-Gage neighborhood, located just east of Alpine Avenue, took a direct hit.

“You know you’re in trouble when the Red Cross asks if you would like a sandwich,” John Topping said. “There were just trees everywhere down. All the power lines were down. I think we lost power for around nine days.”

But the Toppings, who still live in the same home, say there were also lessons learned that day.

“I learned I have good neighbors,” John Topping said.

It didn’t matter who got hit the worse. They all chipped in to help each other.

“We didn’t know all of the neighbors at the time but by the time it was done, we met everybody on the street,” Jan Topping said.

A couple of other lessons were learned by neighbors in the Kingsbury-Gage neighborhood.

One of those lessons: make sure you have supplies on hand to make it through a long power outage. In the aftermath of the ’98 derecho, some neighbors didn’t get their electricity back for more than a week.

And another: After everyone is safe and secure, your first call should be to your insurance agent, to get the ball rolling on repairs.

>>App users: Watch 1998 derecho special: “Blown Apart, Drawn Together”

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