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Cleanup begins from SW Michigan tornadoes: ‘We found homes in the roadway’

  • At least four tornadoes tore through southwest Michigan Tuesday
  • Severe thunderstorms, strong winds and hail swept through several counties  
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Branch, and Cass counties

May 9: Michigan tornadoes: By the numbers

Residents and businesses are beginning cleanup operations after at least four confirmed tornadoes swept through southwest Michigan Tuesday night, upending homes, tearing the roofs off businesses and prompting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a state of emergency.

The National Weather Service received 16 reports of suspected tornadoes in Michigan, though most are not confirmed. The Grand Rapids office confirmed a tornado in Portage in Kalamazoo County. The weather service's Northern Indiana office reports three additional tornadoes hitting the state: one that began in central St. Joseph County and moved into Branch County, a “brief secondary” tornado in Union Lake, Branch County; and a tornado in Dowagiac in Cass County and the Twin Lakes area. 

Several counties near the Indiana border and in southwest Michigan were under severe thunderstorm or tornado watches Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to the agency. Winds reached up to 60 mph and thick hail up to 4 inches in diameter were also reported.

Man walking out of a Pizza Hut in Portage, Michigan. The roof is damaged
General manager Mike Cory walks out of a heavily damaged Pizza Hut in Portage. He said his assistant manager herded employees into a walk-in cooler as the storm hit. “He saved their lives yesterday,” Cory said. (Bridge photo by Mark Bugnaski)

“We know that there's some buildings like a strip mall that had some buildings where the roof was taken off and some walls fell down,” Nathan Jeruzal, meteorologist for the National Weather Service Grand Rapids office said of the damage in one of the hardest-hit areas, Kalamazoo County. 


 “We know that there was a mobile home park that had some homes that were actually flipped over or damaged and then we know of the FedEx building near the Kalamazoo airport that was damaged,” he said. 

Two trucks in front of FedEx Ground facility. The roof is collapsed
The roof collapsed on the FedEx Ground facility on Portage Road after a tornado touched down Tuesday evening. (Bridge photo by Mark Bugnaski)

About 50 people were trapped inside the FedEx building when the storm caused heavy damage to the roof and exterior walls. 

There were several mobile homes damaged in the Pavilion Estates, a mobile home community, Richard Fuller, Kalamazoo County sheriff, said during a press conference. As of Tuesday night, up to 20 people had suffered from minor injuries but were expected to recover, he confirmed. 

“We found homes in the roadway,” Fuller said. “We found homes in neighbors' homes. We found large trees in homes. We found many vehicles that had been smashed by large trees or homes.” 

Consumers Energy reported about 21,944 of its customers were without power as of Wednesday morning. The largest concentration is in Kalamazoo, Branch and St. Joseph counties. 


Crews are out working to restore power and officials are hopeful that the power is restored for customers by the end of the day. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency in Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Branch and Cass counties due to the severe weather. 

 “My heart goes out to all those impacted by tonight’s severe weather in southwest Michigan,” said Gov. Whitmer. “State and local emergency teams are on the ground and working together to assist Michiganders. I’ve declared a state of emergency to ensure resources are expedited to the area and activated our State Emergency Operations Center.” 

The state experiences an average of 15 tornadoes each year, with most of them occurring during the summer. 


Cleanup guidelines 

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has issued guidelines for residents and businesses to safely clean up debris from the storm: 

  • Itemize items on the property, with special attention to hazardous materials such as paint, motor oil and solvents.
  • Residents and business owners should treat storm-related construction and demolition debris as potentially containing asbestos, and maintain it in a wet condition until disposal.
  • Use caution when walking through obstructions or large debris piles to avoid hidden hazards, such as nails and other sharp objects.
  • Debris from homes and businesses should be collected for disposal. This includes structural materials, roofing, insulation, siding, appliances, carpet, furniture and other household items.
  •  Residents who do not independently manage waste disposal are encouraged to contact local and county municipalities for specific directions.
  • Storm-generated woody and vegetative debris such as trees and untreated wood should be sorted and allowed to dry. These items can be chipped into mulch, composted or saved for municipal collection in areas that do so.

“In times of significant weather incidents, we are keeping the health and safety of Michiganders at the forefront of cleanup efforts,”  said Phil Roos, director of EGLE, in a press statement. “Safe debris disposal is an essential part of this storm response process and protective of our state’s environment.”

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:36 p.m. May 9 to add references to a fourth confirmed tornado.

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