Many more live in tornado’s path 50 years later

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six people were killed and 147 more were hurt when the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak hit West Michigan in 1965. If another EF4 tornado were to follow the same path through Kent and Ottawa counties as one of the Palm Sunday tornadoes, many more people would be in its way today.

Michigan has been in a historic lull in terms of violent tornadoes. Between 1953 and 1977, there were 19 devastating tornadoes of EF4 and EF5 intensity in Michigan. There haven’t been any since 1977. Statistically, it’s only a matter of time until a strong tornado touches down.

During the lull, West Michigan’s urban development has flourished. The combined population of Kent and Ottawa counties has increased a 41 percent. The increase for Kent County alone is 58 percent.

Matt Woolford, the director of the Kent County Bureau of Equalization, and his team have studied what the affect would be today an EF4 tornado if it crossed eastern Ottawa and northern Kent counties, where one of the Palm Sunday tornadoes struck.

“If we extrapolate that out we know that the growth that has happened in this area, we estimate that the today 200 people would have been injured and we would have a few more fatalities; at least seven,” Woolford said.

And with an average width of 300 yards, damage would have been nearly five times more.

“What was $15 million worth of damage along this swath in 1965 would be about $74 million damage today,” Woolford said.

There have been significant advancements in technology to warn people of tornadoes, but the case of a tornado in Ottawa and Kent counties, it would be balanced by the extensive growth along the tornado’s path.

>>PHOTOS: A look back: The tornado of 1965

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