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Rare northern Michigan tornado kills one person and injures more than 40

At least one person has been killed and more than 40 injured after a rare northern Michigan tornado battered a small town (John Flesher/AP)
At least one person has been killed and more than 40 injured after a rare northern Michigan tornado battered a small town (John Flesher/AP)

At least one person has been killed and more than 40 injured after a rare northern Michigan tornado battered a small town.

The twister hit Gaylord, a city of about 4,200 people roughly 230 miles (370 kilometres) northwest of Detroit, at around 3.45pm local time on Friday.

Mike Klepadlo, who owns the car repair shop Alter-Start North, said he and his workers took cover in a bathroom.

“I’m lucky I’m alive. It blew the back off the building,” he said.

“Twenty feet (six metres) of the back wall is gone. The whole roof is missing. At least half the building is still here. It’s bad.”

Emma Goddard, 15, said she was working at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe when she got a phone alert about the tornado.

Severe Weather Michigan
Tornado damage is seen at a church in Gaylord (John Flesher/AP)

Thinking the weather outside looked “stormy, but not scary”, she dismissed it and returned to what she was doing. Her mother then called and she assured her she was OK.

Two minutes later, she was pouring a customer’s smoothie when her coworker’s mother rushed in yelling for them to get to the back of the building, Miss Goddard told The Associated Press by text message.

They took shelter in the walk-in freezer, where they could hear windows shattering.

She said: “I was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with my seven co-workers, two of my co-workers’ parents and a lady from Door Dash coming to pick up her smoothies.”

When they left the freezer about 15 minutes later and stepped outside, they saw “some of our cars in pieces and insulation all over the ground”, Miss Goddard said.

She added three neighbouring businesses were destroyed.

Brian Lawson, a spokesman for Munson Healthcare, said Otsego Memorial Hospital was treating 23 people injured by the tornado and that one person was killed. He did not know the conditions of the injured or the name of the person who died.

The Michigan State Patrol confirmed that one person was killed, saying in a tweet that more than 40 others were hurt and being treated at area hospitals. The patrol planned to hold a briefing on Saturday morning.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” mayor Todd Sharrard said. “I’m numb.”

Video posted online showed a dark funnel cloud materialise out of a cloud as nervous drivers looked on or slowly drove away, uncertain of its path.

Other video showed extensive damage along the city’s Main Street. One building appeared to be largely collapsed and a Goodwill store was badly damaged.

Tornado Michigan
Theresa Haske sorts through debris from what was her garage (John Russell/Detroit News via AP)

A collapsed utility pole lay on the side of the road, and debris, including what appeared to be electrical wires and parts of a Marathon gas station, was scattered all along the street.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at a church.

Extreme winds are uncommon in this part of Michigan because the Great Lakes suck energy out of storms, especially early in spring when the lakes are very cold, said Jim Keysor, a Gaylord-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“Many kids and young adults would have never experienced any direct severe weather if they had lived in Gaylord their entire lives,” he said.

The last time Gaylord had a severe wind storm was in 1998, when straight-line winds reached 100mph, Mr Keysor said.

He added the conditions that spawned Friday’s twister included a cold front moving in from Wisconsin and hitting hot and humid air over Gaylord, with the added ingredient of turning winds in the lower part of the atmosphere.

Gaylord, known as the Alpine Village, is set to celebrate its 100th birthday this year, with a centennial celebration that will include a parade and open house at City Hall later this summer.

The community also holds the annual Alpenfest in July, an Alpine-inspired celebration honouring the city’s heritage and a partnership with a sister city in Switzerland.