Portland tornado damages businesses, churches, homes – WOODTV.com
PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The tornado sirens went off in Portland Monday night, hours after the city was hit with a EF-1 tornado that damaged dozens of businesses and more than 70 homes.
PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A tornado ripped through Portland on Monday afternoon, ripping roofs from businesses and churches, causing at least one business’ roof to collapse entirely, and injuring five people but leaving no known fatalities.
The National Weather Service confirmed the EF-1 tornado Monday evening, saying it had touched down about two miles northwest of the eastern Ionia County town. NWS officials said they were still working to determine how long and wide its path was, but they did know it was on the ground for about 10 minutes and dissipated after hitting the downtown business district. Winds were estimated at around 100 mph.
A dozen businesses, three churches and more than 70 homes were damaged in the tornado, Portland City Manager S. Tutt Gorman said at late evening press conference — mostly in the Grand River Avenue corridor and downtown.
Five people sustained minor injuries. None of them were hospitalized.
Gorman said the city was fortunate.
“It could have been much worse,” he said.
Emergency crews from as many as 10 different departments responded to the city around 2:30 p.m. Portland Fire Chief John Baker said one structure fire was put out and numerous gas leaks were reported. Crews from the Lansing area that handled search and rescue efforts, Baker said. Michigan State Police sent K-9s to make sure no one was trapped in any of the damaged structures.
Monday night, Portland Police Chief Jim Knobelsdorf said at the 9 p.m. press conference that authorities had determined no one remained trapped and that no one had been reported missing.
GOODWILL STORE COLLAPSES
Jenni Reed and her two sons – Jackson, age 1, and Jay, 2.5 – had to be rescued by an off-duty fireman and the Portland police after they became trapped inside a Goodwill store that collapsed as the twister swept through. None of the three were hurt.
Reed and her husband moved to Portland — his hometown — about a year ago from Oklahoma. She told 24 Hour News 8 after Monday’s ordeal that she had been shopping in the Goodwill for about an hour when she noticed the front door flapping back and forth. She said something to an employee, who came out of an office.
“The rain was coming sideways and we saw the big bay windows on the building shatter out,” Reed said.
She put one of her sons under her cart and shielded the other with her body. Within about five seconds of the windows blowing, she said, the roof came down.
“I definitely had the instinct to cover the kids, and knowing that the roof was likely going to cave after those windows blow. I know that’s from pressure, so a number of things could happen, so I knew I had to protect them,” Reed said.
She said she didn’t hear anything before the windows blew — not sirens and not the tell-tale freight-train sound tornadoes are known to have.
“I do vividly remember the sound of the air going out after the windows were blown,” she said. “I don’t remember a crash or anything specifically. It jut all came down.”
She said her boys didn’t seem to understand what they had just survived. Her oldest had a toy he had been walking around the store with that had kept him calm.
“My oldest, he kept saying, ‘It’s raining’ because we were standing in midst of all weather after it came down, and he said ‘go home?’ and I said ‘Yes, we’re going to go home, buddy,’” said Reed.
Reed said that later, the Goodwill employee she has signaled when she noticed the door flapping thanked her for saving her life.
“It was scary. Absolutely scary. You just never know what could have happened in that situation,” Reed said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
DAMAGE TO CHURCHES
Among the damaged buildings are three churches within a block of one another: First Baptist, United Methodist and First Congregational.
The 175-year-old First Baptist Church lost much of its roof, and there were fears that a second round of storms Monday night could cause its steeple to fall off the building entirely. Next door, the United Methodist Church sustained significant damage, too. Much of its roof was lying on the front steps following the storm.
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT AND SHELTERS
Gorman said a state of emergency had been declared locally, which would make more aid resources available.
He said that damage assessment would begin Tuesday. He said private property owners who want to report damage and learn about aid options could contact Ionia County Emergency Management Coordinator Doug Devries at [email protected]. He said Devries would also be coordinating volunteers for the cleanup effort.
He said the outpouring of support the city has seen has been “frankly amazing.”
Knoblesdorf said emergency responders were working to board up insecure homes and businesses, and that there would be a large police presence — including Michigan State Police and Ionia County sheriff’s deputies — in the damage zone over the next few days.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter in Portland Middle School for anyone displaced by the storm. Mike Mitchell, the executive director for the Red Cross in West Michigan, said the current shelter has capacity for 30 people, but that it can be expanded. There was no one there yet as of 9 p.m., but the shelter had only been open for half an hour. Mitchell said that in his experience, people typically found places to stay with friends and family after a disaster, but that the Red Cross wanted to make sure a shelter was available to anyone who may need it.
He said the Red Cross’ goal was to make sure everyone had a “place to stay, food to eat and clothes to wear.”
Shelter information for those displaced by the tornado:
- Portland Middle School: 745 Storz Ave.
Red Cross: 616.456.8661
- Mt. Hope Church: 845 Ionia Rd.
- Church of Nazerene: 9465 Cutler Rd.
- St. Andrews Church: 8867 Kent St.
People were asked to stay away from the damage area, which includes Portland and the area slightly west of the town.
“You need to stay out of the area,” Baker said Monday afternoon. “This area, the entire city right now, is unsecure. We’ve got structures that are not secure, we’ve got gas leaks. Stay out of the area, please. I implore you.”
“We need the public’s assistance on this,” Ionia County Sheriff Dale Miller said. “Stay out of the area, let us do our job, and hopefully we’ll be able to find that everybody’s OK.”
>>PHOTOS: Tornado in Portland
SIGNS OF A TORNADO
Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Ellen Bacca, who toured the city Monday afternoon, suspected the tornado was at least an EF-1 before it was confirmed by the NWS based on the damage she saw at churches, businesses and homes, in addition to broken trees.
A red flag, she said, was the swath of damage rather than a bullseye formation, which is what you would see caused by straight-line winds. She also said twisted debris, debris thrown around and shoved into structures — including a 2-by-4 embedded in a roof — and shattered windows caused by strong wind pressure were all signs of a tornado.
A problem that could have been much worse: Downed power lines. The city buried most of its power lines in the early 1980s, so they were protected from the tornado. Mayor Jim Barnes said said a few power sources had been disrupted but that for the most part, the infrastructure remained undamaged.
“We’re in good shape,” he said regarding power infrastructure.
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