ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado touched down north of Grand Rapids as a line of thunderstorms tore across Michigan Thursday evening, downing trees and damaging homes.
Touching down at 8:15 p.m. in the area of Peach Ridge Avenue and 6 Mile Road, the tornado tracked northeast for 8.7 miles before lifting off at 8:30 p.m. near Rockford High School, the NWS said. Winds were estimated at up to 110 mph.
The NWS reported hundreds of downed and uprooted trees and damage to buildings and homes along Alpine Avenue and Pine Island Drive.
No injuries or deaths were attributed to the tornado.
BUSINESS DESTROYED, HOMES DAMAGED
On Alpine Avenue between 6 and 7 Mile, the cinder block Backyard Fun Zone was blown apart.
Tracie Lampe, a co-owner of Backyard Fun Zone, told News 8 that as the storm rolled in, she knew her family’s business was square in its path.
“We were hoping and praying it wasn’t ours, so my husband decided to come and look to make sure what was going on. And it took quite a while to get through, with all the downed power lines and stuff. And when he did, he said the building was gone,” Lampe said. “And I did think he was joking for a minute — and it really is gone. It’s just devastating.”
Lampe said it’s too early to tell what will happen with the Alpine Avenue location, but there’s a Backyard Fun Zone location in Martin that will remain open.
In a neighborhood on Scott View Drive off Pine Island Drive near 7 Mile Road, the back wall of an attached garage was sheared away and the roof partially collapsed.
Pine Island Elementary sustained some minor roof damage.
Comstock Park residents Amanda and Jennifer Loudin said they were on their back deck when the storm came in.
“You hear the snapping of the branches, the banging of the thunder and the lightning and then just the animals going nuts and even our dog was in the backyard here got hit by a branch,” Amanda Loudin said.
Her family, including the dog, are OK.
“It felt surreal,” Jennifer Loudin said. “I couldn’t believe everything was so quiet and all this chaos just happened. And we were literally standing in front of this tree, it could’ve fallen any other way, so we were terrified.”
Trees were down all over the Comstock Park area and northern Grand Rapids. Three fell on Jeanne Herrmann’s home on Stony Creek Avenue in Comstock Park. She said she and her family were eating dinner when they heard thunder and lightning, so they went to the basement.
“I heard crash and boom and glass breaking and water going everywhere,” Herrmann said.
The trees damaged the kitchen and her daughter’s bedroom. More were down in the backyard.
“My daughter was like, ‘It (the backyard) looks like a jungle,'” Hermann said. “These massive oak trees came down, and the trash cans didn’t even tip over.”
Herrmann said a tree service worked overnight from around 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to remove the trees from the roof.
Jimmy Kieling lives around the corner from Herrmann. A large tree was uprooted in his front yard.
“This is the most intense storm that I’ve ever witnessed,” he said. “It was pretty scary there for about half an hour there not knowing what was going on.”
Inside the Grand Rapids city limits, Colleen Rumney was recording video of the storm from her upstairs window alongside her daughter, Emery. Suddenly, lightning struck a nearby tree, which then crashed into their home. After the loud explosion, Rumney can be heard yelling “Basement! Basement!” The two were OK and able to make it downstairs.
When daylight came, the Rumneys saw their car was spared, but not the back side of their house. That was not the only part of their property that the fallen timber wrecked.
“It drained our pool because the whole tree fell into our whole entire backyard,” Emery said. “Right now, it’s like almost all the way drained.”
Their house lost power.
“The people that would take us in don’t have power either, so … we’ll wait it out,” Rumney added. “We’ll pretend we’re camping. That’s what we’re calling it, so … we’re hanging out outside and all of that fun stuff.”
Rumney said she did not know how long it will take for the power to come back on, but that it would be at least three days before insurance adjusters could stop by and assess the damage.
Ray Espinoza is one of the luckier homeowners whose home was spared. The only damage was to his fence, backyard gazebo and a little bit of roofing. He said the storm was the worst one he’s dealt with since moving into his home 26 years ago.
“Once it’s starting to hit 80 degrees in the morning when you get up at 6 (a.m.)… I’m like ‘Ugh… if it’s going to rain, it’s going to come hard.’ And it came hard,” Espinoza said. “I was shocked because like I said we never have nothing this bad. It’s usually west of us.”
Espinoza added that everyone in his neighborhood was helping each other with chainsaws to cut down on any wood that they can, jokingly calling it a ‘community chainsaw event.’
Chris Childs, owner of That Guy Tree Service, says his business has had a lots of requests to remove trees from driveways, yards or homes. He adds they’ve also helped people when they come across them.
“On the way in, I think we cleared two driveways. Just getting over, we saw people in distress and they’re trying to get to work and you can see the obvious problem, there’s a tree down, their car is there and the roads. So we just pull in and pull off and try to keep moving,” Childs said.
Staff with multiple tree removal services told News 8 they think it could take weeks before everything is cleaned up.
ASSESSING DAMAGE AND CLEANUP
The Kent County Emergency Operations Center and the city of Grand Rapids Office of Emergency Management each set up online damage report surveys.
“The reason why this is important is because we are required as the Office of Emergency Management to gather damage assessment information from the storm and how our city has been impacted and provide that up to the state,” Grand Rapids Emergency Management Administrator Allison Farole explained to News 8 Friday afternoon. “That really dives into the decision-making around a state declaration and really helps move up the chain to meet thresholds to qualify for specific financial support.”
The city added it was sending its own crews out to assess damage.
“We’re very busy, especially on the northeast side of the city. We have four street crews, public works and even damage assessment crews out,” Farole said. “It’s really important for my office, the Office of Emergency Management team, to get a glimpse into what level of damage are we looking at.”
Downed trees or other debris in roads and sidewalks can be reported to Grand Rapids by calling 311. If you need access to resources including shelter, call 211.
Grand Rapids said its yard waste drop-off site at 2001 Butterworth St. SW south of O’Brien Road would be open Friday through Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Regular hours are Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Bring yard waste loose or in a paper bag; plastic bags are not permitted. The site is free, but you do have to show ID to prove residency.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan reminded homeowners to do their research before hiring someone to help with cleanup or reconstruction. People coming door-to-door may be scammers, so don’t let yourself be tricked or pressured into any transactions.
“Scammers often canvas neighborhoods after severe weather to offer damage repair with high-pressure sales tactics and too-good-to-be-true prices,” BBB Serving Western Michigan President and CEO Lisa Frohnapfel said in a statement. “Many times, these scammers take the money and disappear before the work is finished or fail to provide the services promised.”
Get multiple bids before hiring someone. You can check with the BBB to see a company’s rating and confirm with the state that your contractor is licensed. Get a contract and make sure you read and understand it.
ANOTHER TORNADO IN LANSING AREA
The NWS also confirmed an EF2 tornado was on the ground in eastern Ingham County Thursday night, with winds reaching speeds of 120 mph.
The Ingham County Sheriff’s Office said it rushed east along I-96 between Williamston and Webberville, overturning 17 semi-trucks and causing multiple car crashes. One of those crashes killed a 40-year-old from the Grand Rapids area. His name was not released Friday. Several other people were seriously injured.
WLNS, News 8’s sister station in Lansing, also reported that one person was killed when a large tree fell on a house in Lansing.
During the storm, three people died in a crash after one car hydroplaned into another east of Cedar Springs, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office said. Speed and alcohol were also being investigated as possible factors.
Flooding and debris caused an Amtrak train bound from Chicago to Port Huron to stop in Battle Creek. Amtrak was arranging buses to get passengers to Port Huron.
Over 200,000 Consumers Energy customers around the state lost power as a result of the storms, with leaders blaming the tornadoes and strong straight-line winds of up to 80 mph.
The Jackson-based utility expected to restore service to everyone by Sunday night, prioritizing hospitals, fire and police departments, water treatment plants, broadcast media stations and schools. The next priority is residential customers.
Kent and Ionia counties saw the worst outage numbers in West Michigan. Grand Rapids Public Schools called off Friday due to power outages. Plainfield Township was asking people who use township water to limit usage by limiting the use of sprinklers, spacing out laundry days and taking shorter showers because the water treatment plant had lost its two main power feeds and was using its generator. On Saturday morning, the township said the plant was fully operational and regular water usage could resume.
Consumers advised people to turn to its interactive power outage map for updates on when crews were dispatched to their area and for updated restoration times, which may change as crews get a better idea of the kind of damage they need to fix.
“The response was outstanding,” Eric Ruiter, who lives near Riverside Park in Grand Rapids and was among those who lost power, said of Consumers. “Last night at 2, 3 in the morning, there was crews driving around the neighborhood already.”
On Friday, many people who spoke with News 8 were working to get generators running and connected to their sump pumps and refrigerators.
“I did buy a generator, luckily,” Connie Steenwyk, who lives in northeastern Grand Rapids, said. “I managed to pull it out of my shed, and my neighbor’s going to help me get gas and stuff because we don’t want to lose all that food (in the refrigerators).”
Consumers said 330 crews were out working on repairs across the state Friday. It promised around-the-clock work to get service restored to all.
“We’re getting crews coming from Alabama, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania coming here to Michigan by noon (Saturday) to assist in that restoration work,” Consumers spokesman Brian Wheeler told News 8 Friday. “All total, we expect to have over 660 crews. That’s over 2,000 people who are doing that work to restore power. We know it’s important. We know it’s a priority to get the power back on.”
Drivers were advised to watch out for power crews at work. If you see one, slow down and go around.
Some traffic lights remained out Friday morning. When a traffic light is not working, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.
Always stay away from downed power lines, even if it doesn’t look like they are energized. Call 911 and Consumers to report downed lines.
“If a community member is being impacted by a tree down that has wires intertwined in them, first off, don’t touch it. Don’t try to move that tree, don’t try to do anything with it. It is a safety hazard. Immediately call 911 and report that, regardless if you think the wire is live or not,” the Grand Rapids emergency management administrator said.
—News 8’s Blake Harms, Anna Skog and Michael Oszust contributed to this report.