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News / Nation & World

Severe storms batter the Midwest, including reported tornadoes that shredded a FedEx facility

By ED WHITE, ALEXA ST. JOHN and SEAN MURPHY, ED WHITE, ALEXA ST. JOHN and SEAN MURPHY, Associated Press
Published: May 8, 2024, 8:09am
3 Photos
Emergency vehicles respond after a tornado damaged a FedEx facility in Portage, Mich., Tuesday, May 7, 2024.
Emergency vehicles respond after a tornado damaged a FedEx facility in Portage, Mich., Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Brad Devereaux/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP) Photo Gallery

PAVILION TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Severe storms barreled through the Midwest early Wednesday, a day after two reported tornadoes struck a Michigan city and surrounding area, destroying homes and commercial buildings, including a FedEx facility.

Tornadoes were first reported after dark Tuesday in parts of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, while portions of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri were also under a tornado watch, according to the National Weather Service. The storms came a day after a deadly twister ripped through an Oklahoma town.

Travis Wycoff ventured from his southwestern Michigan home Tuesday night after seeing on radar that a tornado had touched down in the Portage area. About five minutes later, he came upon the aftermath.

“There were a lot of people running through the streets trying to find people and their pets,” Wycoff said. “It was just a lot of chaos.”

Wycoff said he helped an elderly couple out of their partially collapsed home and also freed a service dog from a home whose owner was at work.

Wednesday morning, he handed out water and offered to help cut fallen tree branches around the Pavilion Estates mobile home park.

“It’s community. I can’t sit a mile away from here when I was perfectly safe,” said Wycoff. “I couldn’t sit there in good conscience and not come down to try to help in some way.”

In southern Indiana, the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado with a preliminary EF-0 rating and 85 mph (137 kph) winds touched down early Wednesday, damaging homes in a subdivision north of the city of Sellersburg, located about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Louisville, Kentucky.

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The Clark County Emergency Management Agency said the storm damaged 24 structures.

Candice Holmes, a resident of the Lewis & Clark subdivision north of Sellersburg, said she, her husband and son sought shelter in their bathroom when they heard the approaching storm and “the wind just picked up all at once.”

“My husband and my son stepped outside, opened the door and they slammed the door and ran back to the bathroom. And they held the bathroom door shut, as it came through,” Holmes told WDRB-TV. “It was over as soon as it started, but it was definitely a scary moment. And I’m glad we’re alive.”

Survey teams planned to head out Wednesday to determine whether tornadoes struck locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, according to Jeff Craven, the meteorologist-in-charge in the weather service’s Pittsburgh office.

Radar indicated Hancock County, West Virginia, and in Jefferson County, Ohio, were hit by tornadoes, but teams will have to evaluate the damage to determine their rating, Craven said.

Hancock County Schools in West Virginia closed schools Wednesday because of “extensive overnight weather issues” in the county. News outlets reported damaged buildings and power outages.

A National Weather Service team also was headed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to survey damage and determine the strength of a tornado that hit early Wednesday morning, forecaster Tabitha Clarke said.

The tornado damaged some homes, uprooted trees and downed power lines. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the tornado, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

In Michigan, two reported tornadoes blitzed the city of Portage and the adjacent Pavilion Township, destroying homes and commercial buildings, including a FedEx facility that was ripped apart.

No serious injuries were immediately reported, but city officials said in a news release that the twisters knocked out power to more than 20,000 people. Most of them would be without power until late Wednesday, city officials said.

At one point, about 50 people were trapped inside the FedEx facility because of downed power lines. But company spokesperson Shannon Davis said late Tuesday that “all team members are safe and accounted for.”

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said more than a dozen mobile homes in Pavilion Township were “totally destroyed.” At least 16 people, he added, were injured there, though the injuries were not life-threatening.

“We found homes in the roadway,” the sheriff said late Tuesday. “We found homes in neighbors’ homes. We found large trees in homes.”

On Wednesday, the buzz of chainsaws and the snap of tree limbs filled the air as cleanup began at a mobile home park.

“The clean-up efforts are tremendous. … We’re looking at homes throughout this community that are totally gone, they’ve been demolished,” Fuller said in the light of day Wednesday at Pavilion Estates mobile home park.

A home where seven people were living “is totally on its top,” he said. “They were able to self-rescue and get somewhere safe and came back today.”

Pavilion Township is about 137 miles (220 kilometers) west of Detroit.

More than 30,000 customers were without power in Michigan early Wednesday, and an additional 10,000 in Ohio, according to PowerOutage.us.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for four counties.

National Weather Service crews were working Wednesday to survey storm damage in several counties in Michigan’s southwest Lower Peninsula to determine whether tornadoes touched down in those areas, including the two reported Tuesday night in the Portage area, said meteorologist Mike Sutton with the weather service’s Grand Rapids office.

He said the Grand Rapids office had received a total of 11 reports of tornadoes from storm spotters, emergency managers and the public from late Tuesday afternoon into Tuesday night, but as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, it had not confirmed any tornado touchdowns.

“It’s quite possible those are multiple reports from the same tornado. The actual number of tornadoes may be lower depending on what they find when they’re out surveying,” Sutton said.

Tuesday’s storms came a day after parts of the central United States were battered by heavy rain, strong winds, hail and twisters. Both the Plains and Midwest have been hammered by tornadoes this spring.

Across the U.S., the entire week is looking stormy. The Midwest and the South are expected to get the brunt of the bad weather through the rest of the week, including in Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Cincinnati — cities where more than 21 million people live. It should be clear over the weekend.

On Monday night, a deadly twister in Oklahoma tore through the 1,000-person town of Barnsdall. At least one person was killed and another was missing. Dozens of homes were destroyed.

It was the second tornado to hit Barnsdall in five weeks — a twister on April 1 with maximum wind speeds of 90 to 100 mph (145 to 161 kph) damaged homes and blew down trees and power poles.

Areas in Oklahoma, including Sulphur and Holdenville, are still recovering from a tornado that killed four and left thousands without power late last month.

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