Tornado tears through Michigan city

Friday , March 16, 2012 - 9:50 AM

APTOPIX Tornado Michigan

A house is destroyed by tornado damage in Dexter, Mich. Friday, March 16, 2012. Initial estimates...

David Jesse, Tina Lam

DEXTER, Mich.-- Sandy Pollard was driving to her Dexter, Mich., home about 5:50 p.m. Thursday when she met up with an approaching tornado.

Despite the pouring rain and high winds that ripped the windshield wipers off her car, she didn't stop. All she could think about was her 17-year-old daughter, Amanda, who was home alone.

Sandy Pollard said she had to stick her head out of the window to drive because she couldn't see out of the windshield.

When she reached home, Amanda came bounding up from the basement -- just as a large piece of drywall smashed through their living room window.

"I just started screaming," Amanda said. "And the wind was soooo loud."

The Pollards' home was among at least 50 homes in Dexter's Huron Farms subdivision that were damaged by the tornado, part of a storm system of rain, hail and high winds that swept across southeast Michigan.

In one yard, a videotape of "Home Alone" sat about 50 feet from the house it came from. Children's swings sets were torn apart, with slides sitting in the middle of the road. Fire crews from multiple departments were working their way through the neighborhood.

The touchdown was reported in the areas northwest of Ann Arbor, said Marc Breckenridge, director of emergency management for Washtenaw County. There were no reports of injuries or fatalities Thursday evening, his office said.

In the Pollards' subdivision, roads and yards were littered with shingles, insulation, roof trusses, branches and other assorted debris. Aluminum siding was hanging from trees like toilet paper.

Many cars parked in driveways had shattered windows. Some vehicles were underneath debris from the shattered homes.

In one house, three shirts could be seen hanging in what remained of an upstairs bedroom closet -- visible because the wall of the bedroom facing the street, along with the ceiling, were gone.

Some houses, even the damaged ones, still had power. The flashing lights of fire trucks and other emergency response vehicles helped to pierce the darkness.

Neighbors said one elderly man was pulled from his basement after his house collapsed around him. But he was fine.

Elsewhere, Steve Park was on I-75, heading home to Holland, Ohio, from his job in Romeo around 7:20 p.m. when the storm hit just south of Monroe.

Park, 51, pulled over to watch, sitting in his car, watching the rotation of clouds to the west. He was stunned when the clouds turned into a funnel cloud and he started snapping photos with his cell phone.

"I've always wanted to see a tornado -- not that someone would get hurt, but the majesty of it," said Park, who is an insulation engineer.

A half-hour later, he stood outside his car as black clouds continued to roil overhead. "Look at that," he said. "Isn't that incredible?"

At least six funnel clouds were confirmed in Monroe County, with touchdowns in the Temperance/Lambertville area, in Ida Township, and in Monroe Township, according to Mark Hammond, the director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Division.

He said no injuries were reported, and damage was "mostly agricultural," except for a farmhouse in Ida Township where windows were blown out.

Elsewhere in Monroe County, Sam Riffle was checking his mail when he saw the funnel cloud tear through the farm fields near his house in Ida Township. He jumped in his Dodge Ram truck to warn friends just down the road.

"I couldn't keep control of the truck. It was blowing me all over the place," he said. He watched as the cloud "sucked up water right out of the ground in the field."

In Ann Arbor, where hail was bouncing off windows, University of Michigan officials sent warnings to students, telling them to take shelter. Several hundred people in the Michigan Union retreated to the basement, where large study areas surround fast-food restaurants.

Back in Dexter, Jennifer Lawrence was just driving into her driveway with her two children when the sirens went off.

She grabbed diapers for the baby and things to occupy her children's attention, then ran into a basement closet, shut the door and wrapped her arms around the kids.

Sitting in that dark closet, "I listened to it all come down. I could hear ripping, hitting and falling. I texted my husband, 'We're getting hit.' " She could hear glass breaking and siding coming off the house and hitting the deck. She tried to call her husband, and the phone kept cutting in and out. But texting was enough. "He kept me calm," she said.

Since she was a child, Lawrence's "greatest fear, ever" was being in a tornado. "That's why we moved into this house, because it had a basement," her husband, Tim Lawrence, said.

Standing on her deck hours later, tears came to her eyes, "I feel so lucky. I am surprised there's this much of my house left." A large picture window on the back of the house had landed on the deck, which was strewn with chairs, pieces of the fence, strips of twisted metal.

Looking across the street, Jennifer Lawrence could see her neighbor's gray SUV surrounded by a pile of debris that had once been a house. In the other direction, the back of her neighbor's two-story house was missing, with the rooms exposed to the open air.

"Now I know I can survive," Jennifer Lawrence said.

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(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press

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