Tornadoes, severe storms rip through southeast Mich.
"You don't think this stuff happens in neighborhoods, you think it only happens in farmland"
By, Josh Katzenstein, Mike Wilkinson and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
DEXTER, Mich. — Jen Klimkowicz, her infant son and her sister-in-law spent Thursday huddled in fear in their basement as a tornado swirled overhead.
The pair emerged to find their home largely spared of damage. That wasn't the case elsewhere in the town, where 13 homes were destroyed.
"We still have a roof, thank God," said Klimkowicz, 34, walking around the street holding her 6-month-old son Cole after the twister passed.
Her sister-in-law said the storm was unbelievable.
"You don't think this stuff happens in neighborhoods, you think it only happens in farmland," said Carrie Klimkowicz.
The tornado that touched down Thursday in this small community damaged 100 homes, littered streets with splintered wood, personal belongings and downed trees, and left thousands without power. It was one of three reported twisters in southeastern Michigan, part of a slow-moving storm system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds that swept from Washtenaw and Lapeer counties and south to Monroe County.
No major injuries were reported.
Marc Breckenridge, director of Emergency Management for the Washtenaw County, said the storm system stayed for more than an hour.
"It was the first time in 20 years I've seen a storm stall out over my community and stay there," he said.
There were reports of tornadoes touching down in Monroe County's Ida Township and northwest Lapeer County, near Columbiaville, National Weather Service meteorologist Amos Dodson said. Trees and power lines were downed in Lapeer in a storm that packed wind gusts up to 70 mph and 2-inch hail, he said.
A tornado also was spotted in Monroe County's Dundee, east of Lulu, between Geiger and Lewis Avenue, the village of Dundee tweeted. Fire Capt. Jim Hemwall of Monroe County's Frenchtown Township said a house in the town of Exeter was struck by lightning and debris swirled around another in Dundee.
"We're getting absolutely hammered," he said.
In Ida Township, a tornado about 7 p.m. damaged an elderly couple's home and flipped a car, said Fire Chief Paul Metz.
Damage from the Dexter twister included dozens of homes in the Huron Farms subdivision, where families huddled in basements.
Derrick Jackson of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office said one tornado touched down in one part of Dexter, lifted, and then touched down in another part.
He said 35 homes were significantly damaged in the Carriage Hills neighborhood near Dexter-Pinckney and Horseshoe Bend while 68 were damaged and 13 destroyed in Huron Farms. Some 100 families were affected, Breckenridge said.
About two dozen homes in Sharon Carty's Huron Farms neighborhood "are pretty much unlivable," she said. "And a significant number more than that are severely damaged. One house, the whole front of the house is gone. Folks whose houses were hit are pretty stunned. We don't get too many tornadoes around here."
Volunteers aid cleanup
In one neighborhood, a home looked flattened, while an adjacent one lost most of its roof and second floor. Houses across the street sustained damage to roofs and siding.
Sarah Salomon, who is nine months pregnant and has a 5-year-old son, said a window blew out on her home on York Street and tossed away her patio furniture.
"I wasn't scared until after it was over and I saw all this," said Salomon, who hid in the basement with her son.
Hundreds of volunteers and emergency personnel were expected to work through today assisting with cleanup. Scio, Ann Arbor, Putnam, Manchester and Chelsea fire departments also sent trucks and manpower to the scene of the tornado damage.
The Salvation Army assisted. Red Cross opened a temporary shelter for the displaced at Mill Creek Middle School.
The Red Cross offered medical and mental health services, shelter, food and basic needs. DTE Energy crews were expected to work around the clock to restore power to the estimated 6,000 customers affected, spokesman Len Singer said.
Meanwhile, Michigan State Police closed roads downtown.
One officer said police were only allowing area residents in "because the damage is so bad."
Area police and fire agencies were going door-to-door searching for any injured, Jackson said.
As the storms swept through the region, hail and flooding were reported in Ann Arbor, Monroe and Genesee counties.
Severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings were in place throughout the night.
Residents sought shelter and officials prepared for the worst.
Peter and Andrea Theocharakis, owners of the Dexter Pub in downtown Dexter, said they had diners and staff go into the basement around 5:15 p.m. after hearing tornado sirens.
"We tried to keep everyone calm and collected," Andrea said, adding the power went out while the group was in the basement.
Theocharakis said she spoke with relatives who live in a nearby subdivision hit hard.
"Houses are gone," she said. "My family's good. They were in the house when it happened ... They were the luckiest house in the neighborhood."
Bill Marx, head baker at Dexter Bakery, said he was closing up when he noticed the change in the weather and heard sirens.
"I stepped outside and saw the clouds turning around," Marx said. "It was coming toward us. After it went by, it really started raining and hailing."
University of Michigan Health System spokeswoman Kara Gavin said patients were moved into hallways. Some critically ill patients were moved away from windows.
Gavin said there were no reports of damage in or around the Ann Arbor hospitals.
Eastern Michigan University in nearby Ypsilanti buckled down for the storm.
"We put out an all-campus notice to students to take cover," spokesman Walter Kraft said.
The tornadoes are among the area's earliest recorded in the last 60 years.
A twister that hit Coleman in Midland County on Monday was just the 10th to strike southeastern Michigan before April 1, the weather service said. It also was second earliest since 1950, according to NWS records.
The storms spawning them likely were fueled by unseasonable temperatures.
Detroit Metro Airport reached 77 degrees on Thursday afternoon, tying a record high set in 1990 and 1977. It was the second day in the 70s and the fifth straight above 60, according to weather service records. The average high is 45.
The trend dovetails with the weather service's outlook for spring, which arrived early with 577 warm temperature records broken Wednesday.
It predicts mostly warmer and drier-than-normal weather across the country, except in the Northwest.
The current summer-like weather - with some temperatures as much as 35 degrees above normal - is expected to stick around through next week.
All or parts of 36 states are forecast to be warmer than normal from April through June. Every state east of the Mississippi River, except Wisconsin, and most of the Southwest should be warmer than normal this spring, the weather service said.
The same conditions that made the winter so snowless and mild are likely to keep spring warm and dry, said Ed O'Lenic, operations branch chief at the Climate Prediction Center.
Staff Writers Serena Maria Daniels, Chad Livengood and the Associated Press contributed.
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