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Friday, March 16, 2012
Tornadoes Ravage Southeast Michigan, Dexter Homes Destroyed
A police car sits outside a house that suffered heavy damage on Wilson Drive in Dexter after a tornado touched down Thursday evening. Credit Sharon Carty
DEXTER, Mich. — A solitary hand stuck out of the rubble of a home destroyed when a tornado ripped through a Michigan village leaving more than 100 homes in splinters.
The first officer on the scene, Washtenaw County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Yee, reached for the hand and pulled out an elderly man who was shaken but able to walk.
"That's the best part," Yee said. "Every place I went to, I would have thought I would have found somebody laying there – deceased or whatever. But, knock on wood, everybody was OK."
Initial estimates indicate the tornado that hit Dexter, northwest of Ann Arbor, Thursday evening was packing winds of around 135 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Freitag said Friday. He said it was on the ground for about a half hour and plowed a path about 10 miles long.
The storm, which flooded roads and tossed trees, was part of a slow-moving system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds. Gusts downed power lines, sparking fires.
Sheriff's spokesman Derrick Jackson said 105 homes were significantly damaged in two neighborhoods of the hard-hit village and the surrounding area, and 13 were destroyed. Crews were assessing the damage on Friday.
"We're confident that we're not missing anybody at this time" Dexter fire Chief Loren Yates said Friday morning.
In Dexter, most of those whose homes were damaged stayed with friends or relatives, or at hotels, Yates said. He said it was "amazing" that no serious injuries or fatalities were reported. He credited warnings issued ahead of the tornado.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder expressed thanks for the local and state authorities that responded swiftly to the storms. State troopers assisted local authorities, his office said, but there haven't yet been any requests for state emergency aid.
About two dozen homes in Huron Farms neighborhood "are pretty much unlivable," resident Sharon Carty said. "One house, the whole front of the house is gone. Folks whose houses were hit are pretty stunned. We don't get too many tornados around here."
Carty, 38, said she and her family heard the first weather siren around 5:15 p.m. and were in their basement when the tornado struck. Their house was untouched.
Jack Davidson, 63, said he was watching TV when he heard warning sirens go off near his home in Dexter, sending him and his wife to the basement.
When they emerged, they didn't see much damage at first and thought the storm had spared the area. But one look across the street revealed a different reality: a flattened self-serve carwash was among the damaged structures.
"It's bad," Davidson said. "The pizza shop's bad. But the worst damage is to the carwash."
Two blocks away, the twister didn't touch down.
"I guess we were just lucky we were in the right spot," Davidson said.
A sign that declares Dexter a "Tree City USA" community was bent and affixed to a telephone pole. Nearby, trees lay on the ground, rendering surrounding roads closed or impassable.
Freitag said a weaker tornado was on the ground for 3 to 5 minutes in Monroe County's Ida Township. He estimated those winds at 80 to 90 mph.
"We're getting absolutely hammered," Fire Capt. Jim Hemwall of Monroe County's Frenchtown Township said Thursday night. "We have funnel clouds spotted all around us."
Hemwall said a house in the town of Exeter was struck by lightning and debris swirled around another in Monroe County's Dundee.
A third possible tornado was reported in northwest Lapeer County, near Columbiaville. Authorities reported damage in a three-mile area there. The storm ripped a two-story home from its foundation, damaged barns and vehicles, and knocked down trees. It packed wind gusts of up to 70 mph in Lapeer County and 2-inch hail, the weather service said.
Police closed all roads into Dexter as darkness fell Thursday, and emergency personnel were conducting a door-to-door search for injured residents, said Jackson, the Washtenaw sheriff's spokesman. People needing shelter for the night were directed to a local school.
University of Michigan Health System spokeswoman Kara Gavin said patients were moved into hallways and window blinds were closed in rooms. Gavin said there were no reports of damage in or around the Ann Arbor hospitals.