Tornado Shreds FedEx Facility in Michigan

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By Staff
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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.

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.

Hours earlier in southwestern Michigan, two reported tornadoes blitzed the city of Portage and an adjacent community Tuesday night, 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 adjacent to Portage and 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.

“My heart goes out to all those impacted by tonight’s severe weather in southwest Michigan,” Whitmer said in a message on social media. “State and local emergency teams are on the ground and working together to assist Michiganders.”

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 city of Portage, 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.

Sutton said it could be a couple days before the storm surveys are completed and he stressed that some of the tornado reports could be duplicate reports passed along by people who saw the same storm.

“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,” he 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.

Aerial videos showed homes reduced to piles of rubble and others with roofs torn off. The twister tossed vehicles, downed power lines and stripped limbs and bark from trees across the town. A 160-acre (65-hectare) wax manufacturing facility in the community also sustained heavy damage.

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.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who toured the twister’s damage Tuesday, said it was rated by weather researchers as a violent tornado with winds reaching up to 200 mph (322 kph). Stitt said he and legislative leaders have agreed to set aside $45 million in this year’s budget to help storm-damaged communities.

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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Murphy reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Rio Yamat, Heather Hollingsworth, Colleen Slevin, Jim Salter, Kathy McCormack, Sarah Brumfield, Beatrice Dupuy and Alexa St. John.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

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