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More than 100 homes were damaged in Michigan tornado outbreak

By AP | Last updated: Mar 27, 2012 - 12:50:23 PM

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DEXTER, Mich - Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Yee was the first officer on the scene in one of two hard-hit Michigan subdivisions where a tornado ripped through more than 100 homes, leaving them in splinters before downing trees and power lines, sparking fires and flooding neighborhood roads.

Mechial White, right, stands in debris as his home was completely leveled by a tornado that hit Huron Farms neighborhood in Dexter, Mich. on March 16. The twister that took aim at this Michigan village unleashed winds of 135 mph and lingered on the ground for a full half hour, plowing a path of destruction that stretched for 10 miles. Photo: AP Wide World Photos/AnnAbor.Com, Angela J. Cesere

Deputy Yee approached one destroyed home March 15, and saw a hand sticking out of the rubble. He pulled out an elderly man, who was shaken but walked away.

“That’s the best part,” Deputy Yee said. “Every place I went to, I would have thought I would have found somebody laying there deceased or whatever. But, knock on wood, everybody was OK.”

The slow-moving storm was part of a system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds. The touchdown was reported in the Dexter and Pinckney areas northwest of Ann Arbor, said Marc Breckenridge, director of Emergency Management for the county.

Crews were assessing damage, but in one neighborhood, a home appeared to be flattened while an adjacent home lost most of its roof and second floor. Houses across the street also sustained damage to their roofs and siding. There were no reports of serious injuries or fatalities, authorities said.

Based on damage, the tornado had winds estimated around 135 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Freitag said March 16. He said it was on the ground for about a half hour and had a path about 10 miles long.

Sheriff’s spokesman Derrick Jackson said 105 homes were significantly damaged in Dexter and the surrounding area, and 13 were destroyed.

Damage was concentrated in two subdivisions. 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 tornados around here.”

She saw no evidence of any injuries.

Ms. Carty, 38, said she and her family heard the first weather siren around 5:15 p.m. and were in their basement when the tornado struck. Their house was untouched.

Jack Davidson, 63, said he was watching TV when he heard warning sirens go off twice near his home in Dexter, sending him and his wife to the basement.

When they emerged, Mr. Davidson said the couple at first didn’t see much damage and thought the storm had spared the area. But one look across the street revealed a different reality: a flattened self-serve carwash was among the damaged structures.

“It’s bad,” Mr. Davidson said. “The pizza shop’s bad. But the worst damage is to the carwash.”

Two blocks away, the twister never touched down.

“I guess we were just lucky we were in the right spot,” Mr. Davidson said.

Still, destruction was a common sight in the village’s business district.

A sign that declares Dexter a “Tree City USA” community was bent and affixed to a telephone pole. Nearby, trees lay on the ground, rendering surrounding roads closed or impassable.

Based on video and other evidence, a weaker tornado struck Monroe County’s Ida Township, Mr. Freitag said. That tornado was on the ground for about three to five minutes, and by looking at the damage the winds were estimated at 80 to 90 mph, he said.

“We’re getting absolutely hammered,” Fire Capt. Jim Hemwall of Monroe County’s Frenchtown Township said. “We have funnel clouds spotted all around us.”

Capt. Hemwall said a house in the town of Exeter was struck by lightning and debris swirled around another in Monroe County’s Dundee.

A third possible tornado was reported in northwest Lapeer County, near Columbiaville. Authorities reported damage in a three mile area there. The storm ripped a two-story home from its foundation, damaged barns and vehicles, and knocked down trees. It packed wind gusts up to 70 mph in Lapeer County and two-inch hail, the weather service said. (AP)

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