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4 tornadoes hit Michigan in storm: Armada, Port Austin, White Lake and Clayton twps., NWS says

Alex Harring, Nic Antaya and Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Armada — It was just after 8 p.m. Saturday, after devastating storms swept through the region, when an army arrived: tree trimmers, folks with pickup trucks, those who could lift and haul anything that was aimlessly tossed minutes earlier when a tornado packing winds up to 105 mph hit the tiny village.

Residents from down the block or miles away came to the area most affected, just off the town’s Main Street, to help clean up neighbors’ yards and streets. There were broken windows, cars crushed and roofs damaged. Once filled with splendid large trees, the storm took out more than half of Village Park’s collection.

The destruction was swift.

It was, said police Chief Michael Patrick, “a great example of Armada and its residents.”

“This is what they do.”

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes touched down Saturday night in Armada in northern Macomb County and in Genesee and Oakland counties. The storms knocked down trees and limbs, power lines and poles and left more than 125,000 without power.

The Armada tornado was classified as EF-1 with winds up to 105 mph, hit about 7:54 p.m. and ended about 8:08 p.m. Its path was about 3.6 miles long and 700 yards wide, the National Weather Service said.

The storms produced at least three other tornadoes in Michigan. The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday tornadoes in Clayton Township in western Genesee County and in Oakland County’s White Lake Township, each with 100 mph winds. The weather service told The Detroit News on Sunday night that it also had confirmed a tornado hit Port Austin, in the Thumb region, the second one in less than a month.

Four tornadoes striking in one day "is not typical, but it's not unheard of," said National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Manion.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said county and local officials acted as if one occurred in Armada before the weather service confirmed the twister.

The twister “was here and gone rather quickly,” Patrick said. “But it but it left devastation in its path.”

No injuries were reported. The cleanup and repairs likely will last into the week.

Keith Christoff, 55, of Armada helps his neighbor clean up debris and fallen trees in front of his house on North Fulton Street.

The Clayton Township tornado hit less than two hours earlier at 6:21 p.m., with 100 mph winds and ended at 6:26 p.m. and followed a path 1.9 miles long and 200 yards wide, the weather service tweeted.

The White Lake Township tornado, with up to 100 mph winds, hit at 7:54 p.m. and ended at 7:57 p.m. and followed a path 1.8 miles long and 400 yards wide.

Men survey the damage to Armada Memorial Park on North Fulton Street.

DTE Energy spokeswoman Stephanie Beres said Sunday the thousands of power outages likely would last into Monday. The company had more than 100 employees working in the area to restore power on Sunday.

Crews tend to downed poles and wires lying across Armada Center Road Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021, in front of the Armada Middle School.

Thomas Hardesty, Oakland County’s director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department, characterized the tornado damage there as low to moderate.

No businesses or homes were destroyed but some had damage from  the wind and flying debris, Hardesty said. Officials will assess the damage and determine whether to ask for an emergency declaration, he said.

In Armada, one police officer was on duty when the severe weather hit but county and state police pitched in and fielded 500 weather-related calls during the storm.

Lynette Vanryckeghem of Emmett went to Armada to help her brother-in-law and his family cleanup after the suspected tornado.

“It’s an amazing community coming together, but we do want to leave some of the stuff for the professionals that DTE is bringing in in regards to taking care of the wires and taking care of the trees down,” fire Chief Chris Krotche said.

Clayton Township Supervisor Thomas Spillane said he had just returned home from Up North on Saturday when he started receiving phone alerts and heard the emergency siren.

“We didn’t know how bad it was until my police chief called and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of major damage up here on Morrish and Calkins road,’” he said. “At that time we didn’t know it was an actual tornado.”

Spillane said that no injuries were reported.

He said damage was primarily in an area near Nichols and Calkins roads in the rural community. “It’s a relatively small area,” Spillane said. “Most of the damage was rooftops, there was a couple garages, a pole barn that was flattened. A lot of trees down.”

Some residents remained without power Sunday night.

“People are trying to do cleanup with generators,” he said. “Keep refrigerators and freezers running and stuff like that. The good thing is it’s not raining, and the weather is nice. Makes it a little easier.”

Flying debris struck a home on North Fulton Street.

William Poulos described watching a tree, still upright, begin to twist as the winds came through Armada on Saturday. He and his son bolted to the basement with the rest of the family. After the storm came through, they boarded up windows and surveyed the damage.

Trees were down, windows were shattered and a board had been shoved through a side of the house upstairs.

On Sunday, Poulos’ family was joined by friends he made at Armada High School decades ago. They were ready to work, he said.

“They brought a cooler full of water and beers,” he said. “And I said, ‘Perfect!’”

William Poulos, 56, of Armada talks about the damage done to his home by Saturday night's suspected tornado.

Businesses, except for a grocery store, were without power Sunday and remained closed, but owners were out helping. The owners of a nearby Tropical Smoothie Cafe pulled a wagon with smoothies and other drinks for DTE employees and police officers.

Lea Walkowski’s Shear Hair Saloon’s front glass was shattered by the  winds. Her son put a tarp up. She came into town Sunday morning with another aim.

Walkowski wanted to check on other store owners.

“We’re a very tight community who is here for everybody,” she said. “That’s how this town works. When one falls, we all fall.”

Ken Barbier,60, of Armada Township, came to Fulton Street to survey the damage and offer his help in the cleanup.

Ken Barbier left his Armada Township home, without power, and brought his four-wheeler to town to see if he could help.

When Barbier got to the damaged area, he was shocked. “It looks like a bomb went off,” he said.

He found people “coming together to help out,” he said. “That’s the great thing about a small community.”

When severe weather struck Port Austin again Saturday, residents girded for the worst, much like when a tornado struck June 26. The storm this time hit around 4:30 p.m., and appeared to be limited to a small area, toppling a shed and flattening a cornfield at M-25 and Hellems Road.

The weather service said it was an EF-0 with top winds of 80 mph. It struck about a mile east of the city, and went for nearly 3 miles with a width of 50 yards. A soybean field was among the areas damaged.

Saturday's severe weather toppled a shed and flattened a cornfield along North Hellems Road in Port Austin.

Theresa Jandreski said even though the damage was not widespread, seeing another possible tornado in her town so quickly after the one in late June was frightening.

“Now of course every time it storms, you’re outside looking, OK, where is it? Is something going to happen again?” Jandreski said.

On June 26, an EF-2 tornado with winds estimated up to 120 mph hit the area and surrounding townships, damaging homes at the southern portion of the village.

On Saturday, two inches of rain fell in parts of southeast Michigan, which is still cleaning up after the late June storms. About 2.81 inches fell in Richmond in Macomb County, 2.24 inches in Flint, 1.75 in White Lake Township, 1.52 in Saginaw, and 1.33 in Detroit.

Though businesses, homes and cars will need repairs, Paterek said the town will be back up and running in time for the annual Armada Fair on Aug. 16. The town missed last year for the pandemic — and residents don’t plan on calling the tradition off this year, he said.

“We’re counting our blessings, and we’ll do what we always do,” said Paterek, who also owns a business in town. “We’ll get ready to work our volunteer booths at the fair, and we’ll keep going. It’s just what we do.”

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.