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Rare northern Michigan tornado kills 1, injures more than 40

 A shopping center was damaged by a tornado in Gaylord Friday afternoon.
Michigan State Police
A shopping center was damaged by a tornado in Gaylord Friday afternoon.

A rare northern Michigan tornado tore through the small community of Gaylord on Friday afternoon, killing at least one person and injuring more than 40 others as it flipped vehicles, tore roofs from buildings and downed trees and power lines.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Otsego County Friday night, making further state resources available to the county.

"I know it’s going to be a tough weekend for families here and for businesses and for the recovery. We’re Michiganders and we’re tough and we’re resilient," Whitmer said. "We have been through a lot of tough stuff together, especially over the last few years, and we’ll get through this."

Eddie Thrasher, 55, said he was sitting in his car outside an auto parts store when the twister seemed to appear above him.

“There are roofs ripped off businesses, a row of industrial-type warehouses,” Thrasher said. “RVs were flipped upside down and destroyed. There were a lot of emergency vehicles heading from the east side of town.”

 An RV business in Gaylord is damaged after Friday's tornado.
Chrystal Dutcher
An RV business in Gaylord is damaged after Friday's tornado.

He said he ran into the store to ride it out.

“My adrenaline was going like crazy,” Thrasher said. “In less than five minutes it was over.”

Multiple homes were damaged and trees and powerlines were downed an blocking roads, the State Police said on Twitter.

Mike Klepadlo, owner of Alter-Start North, a car repair shop, 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 of the back wall is gone. The whole roof is missing. At least half the building is still here. It’s bad.”

The National Weather Service in Gaylord said the tornado was accompanied by hail the size of ping pong balls up through large eggs.

Jim Fizer with the weather service's local office called it "a pretty devastating situation."

"We know that there was a lot of damage a lot of businesses a lot of homes. There's debris that's blocking a number of roads. You can't even get into a lot of areas right now because there's so much debris," Fizer said.

Brian Lawson, a spokesperson for Munson Healthcare, said Gaylord-Otsego Memorial Hospital was treating 23 people who were injured by the tornado and that one person was killed. He didn’t know the conditions of the injured or the name of the person who died.

Lawson said the pace of people being brought to the hospital had slowed by Friday evening.

“From what I’m gathering, things have stabilized a bit,” he said.

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 Saturday morning.

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

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 100 mph, Keysor said. He said 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.

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