GAYLORD, Mich. — A tornado that killed at least two people and injured dozens of others dropped out of the sky in far northern Michigan on Friday and onto a mobile home park before tearing a three-block hole through the small city of Gaylord.
As cleanup began on Saturday, and as more than 40 people were treated for injuries, officials struggled to make sense of the damage in a region where tornadoes are rare. One person remained unaccounted for, and crews continued to search through wreckage.
“There have been trailers picked up and turned over on top of each other,” said Chief Chris Martin of the Otsego County Fire Department, who estimated that nearly all of the Nottingham Forest mobile home park, where the deaths were reported, had been destroyed.
Forecasters had warned about the potential for severe weather on Friday, but the tornado that hit Gaylord, population 4,300, still came suddenly. A severe thunderstorm warning issued in the afternoon was quickly upgraded to a tornado warning. The city, roughly 230 miles northwest of Detroit, has no tornado sirens, officials said, but people in the area were alerted to the storm by emergency notifications on their cellphones.
Within minutes, a tornado was on the ground, tearing apart the mobile homes and then charging across city limits from west to east. Cars were tossed on top of one another in a Hobby Lobby parking lot. A truck was upended next to a sign for a Culver’s restaurant. On shredded residential streets, police officers soon found themselves looking for neighbors in the rubble.
“We were calling them out by name, trying to see if they were still in their damaged homes,” said Chief Frank Claeys of the Gaylord Police Department. “And when you see that, it’s a lot more personal when our officers know the names of people who live in those homes.”
More than 40 people were treated at hospitals for their injuries, and officials said it was possible that many others were hurt but did not seek medical attention. So many people needed care that patients were diverted to other hospitals in the region as one in Gaylord filled up.
On Saturday, strip mall parking lots in parts of Gaylord remained debris fields. A Goodwill store was missing part of its front wall. Smashed bricks and shattered plywood were strewn outside the entrance of a Tropical Smoothie Cafe.
Tornadoes are far less common in Michigan than in many other Midwestern states. John Boris, of the National Weather Service office in Gaylord, said the state averaged about 15 tornadoes a year. Most of those occur well to the south of Gaylord, which is about 60 miles from the tip of the state’s Lower Peninsula.
“Up here, stuff like this doesn’t happen,” said Joshua Comoford, 22, who was handing out drinks to firefighters and volunteers on Saturday at the mobile home park. “You have rainstorms or severe winds. But a tornado actually ripping through our town? Nothing like that’s ever happened in my lifetime.”
Lt. Derrick Carroll, a spokesman for the Michigan State Police, said power outages continued in parts of Gaylord on Saturday and a curfew would remain in place that night. Both people known to have died were in their 70s and had ties to the mobile home park, he said. One of them was found overnight Friday during a search with a cadaver dog. Crews continued to look Saturday for a person who was reported missing from another part of the region.
“The area is not safe,” Lieutenant Carroll said. “We’re in the process of stabilizing it.”
Luke Vander Ploeg reported from Gaylord, and Mitch Smith from Chicago.