Shiawassee County declares local state of emergency following tornadoes

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office and Board of Commissioners filed a local state of emergency declaration Friday after tornadoes damaged 70 homes this week. 

Four tornadoes touched down as strong storms swept the state Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Two tornadoes in Shiawassee County, an EF-0 and EF-2, left a trail of destruction that resulted in damage to at least 70 structures, officials said Saturday. No one was injured.

Shiawassee County Sheriff's Deputy Dan McMaster said the Board of Commissioners declared a local state of emergency Friday night and is asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for aid in cleaning up debris and to help with those who have lost their homes. 

The Sheriff's Office spent Friday assessing the damage. Teams estimated more than 50 homes had severe damage, including 12-15 homes and businesses that are a complete loss, McMaster said.

"Some people have absolutely nothing, no water or electricity or literally their house is in their basement so we're just trying to figure all that out and how to help," McMaster said. "Luckily, we had no fatalities just a few cuts, which is amazing."

Debris lies on the ground near a barn after a tornado Friday in Vernon, Michigan. Authorities say a tornado swept through mid-Michigan, damaging homes and knocking out power to thousands.

McMaster said Michigan State Police are assisting in the recovery operations and damage assessments through the weekend. On Saturday, the team focused on gathering volunteers for their recovery operations. Officials have not estimated a dollar assessment of the damage.

"We're looking for volunteers to help in removing trees and debris until the road commission picks it up," McMaster said. "Power has not been completely restored."

The weaker of the two tornadoes touched down for seven minutes at 6:47 p.m. Thursday and created a path of damage 6.4 miles long and 100 yards wide from near Bennington to about two miles southwest of Corunna. It struck the intersection of Bennington Greens and Innsbrook drives, where it snapped and uprooted trees and hit a farm, lifting the roof off of an outbuilding, the National Weather Service said.

Officials have confirmed a second, stronger tornado touched down in Shiawassee County the same night near Vernon, traveling from the intersection of Newburg and Bancroft roads to M-71. With winds up to 125 mph, the tornado tore through buildings and downed trees and power lines. 

►Tornado aftermath: 4 touchdowns wreak havoc in mid-Michigan

McMaster said they are trying to organize a community townhall for Sunday to help those who have been impacted by the natural disaster.

"We'll hopefully be able to put together a community meeting to give people updates and resources to help them with insurance claims, consumer protection, fraud, and set up a donation system and work with our food pantries as we work through this recovery mode," he said.

This house on the SE corner of Bancroft and Newburg Roads in Vernon Twp. is heavily damaged.

The Board of Commissioners has been in contact with Whitmer and the county's state Rep. Ben Frederick, who is in the county, McMaster said. 

Dale George, spokesman for the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, said usually a local government declares an emergency and asks for state assistance. In this case, though, George said they're evaluating if the county just needs assistance in clean-up or what further aid is needed.

"We sent up a helicopter yesterday for a damage assessment of the county," George said. "There is some additional information that is required before they can determine the state of emergency so that’s currently being assessed."

Residents can check the county's social media pages for announcements and resources.

People with damage who have not already contacted law enforcement are asked to call a damage report line at (989) 743-2365.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_