Suspected tornado terrifies Armada residents, leaves trail of damage

Last month, Carrie Cercone and her family endured a flood where they lost everything in their basement. Saturday night they scurried to that basement as violent storms with high winds and torrential rain rolled into their neighborhood.

“We just checked on all the neighbors and everybody is OK,” she said soon after the storms passed through. “Our house and our yard are definitely not. Our fence is gone. Our son’s playset is gone. Our pool is gone. We just put it up."

Although the National Weather Service has not yet confirmed that a tornado caused the damage, Cercone said there's no doubt in her mind that it was a tornado. 

Armada resident Carrie Cercone is overcome with grief as she looks at the destruction on Prospect Avenue near Burk Street after a reported tornado in the Northern Macomb County village, Saturday night, July 24, 2021.

At 7:52 p.m., radar indicated a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located over Armada, or near Romeo, moving east at 20 mph, the weather service said.

"We saw signatures that indicated a tornado, including with rotation," said Megan Varcie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

The warning for Macomb County expired at 8:30 p.m., but the damage was done. 

Just about an hour before, Cercone and her husband heard the sirens, so the family — mom, dad and three-year-old son — headed to the basement, cat and dog in tow.

“My husband could see out the window and he said ‘Oh my God, stay where you’re at and cover his head.’

Fire crews stage on W. Main St. in the Village of Armada as they prepare to remove trees from the street after a tornado touchdown, Saturday night, July 24, 2021.

“I guess it got really black and it sounded like what you hear on movies, like a train coming through your house,” Cercone said. “I just grabbed my son, held him and said ‘Please God let us be OK.’ After four or five minutes it was gone, it was done.”

In between checking her home and yard, Cercone comforted her son and tried to answer all his questions: Why did this happen? Where did the tornado go? And what would happen with the pool party that was planned for his fourth birthday in two weeks’ time, now that the pool had disappeared?

“We’re going to figure something out,” she told him.

'Tremendous amount of trees down'

"There are no significant injuries and no deaths,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said Saturday night. “We checked out some people who were trapped in their homes. There’s a tremendous amount of trees down, windows on storefronts smashed out, rooftops damaged."

Hackel said a decision on whether to request a disaster declaration would come later.

“Really it’s more than just in town. It reached from Romeo to Armada north to the 32 Mile area,” he said. “We’ll be assessing the damage overnight…We’re all out here, just like you’d expect after something like this.”

Trees are down in front yard of the Armada Area Schools administration building near Prospect Avenue and Burk Street in the village of Armada after a touchdown on Saturday night, July 24, 2021.

DTE Energy reported 114,633 customers without power following the storms Saturday night and said 92 crews were out trying to restore service. The hardest-hit areas include a swath of northern Macomb County that includes Armada, as well as a large portion of northern Oakland County south of Holly and west of Waterford.

Consumers Energy reported 340 outages affecting 12,805 customers. The areas hit the hardest included Charlotte, southwest of Lansing, and Flint and Midland.

'A freight train'

Anita Downing and her husband Terry just stepped in the door of their Armada home at about 8 p.m. when the wind came howling. They rushed to the bathroom with their rescue dog, Bella, for safety. 

Terry told Anita to keep her head down “because it was still blowing … it was just like they say, a freight train.”

Once the wind stopped throwing bits of their house, trees and plants about, the Downings realized they were trapped.

“We couldn't get out of our house because the trees … we have like tons of trees, they were all right by all of our doorways,” Anita Downing said. “The cops had to let us out.”

The 55-year-old has lived in Michigan all her life and said she's never experienced anything like what happened Saturday.

The couple’s one vehicle is smashed, and the house sustained some damage including broken windows and a partially blown off roof. 

Armada resident Carrie Cercone is overcome with grief as she looks at the destruction on Prospect Avenue near Burk Street after a reported tornado in the northern Macomb County village, Saturday night, July 24, 2021.

"I've been crying for 20 minutes and I'm thinking to myself 'I don't know why I'm crying, we’re all OK' so that's all that matters,” she said. “You can replace all this other crap."

Neighbors have already offered support, Downing said.

“I live in a really good town,” she said. “People are coming over here I don't even know and just hugging us.”

More severe weather

The rainfall was so fierce Saturday night that it once again flooded area freeways. 

The Lodge and Davison were both flooded and cars were being removed from the water, according to a tweet from Michigan State Police. 

In addition, there were crashes, traffic lights out and flooding in subdivisions. 

"Right now if you are home it's a good place to be," MSP said. "If you are out, please use extra caution."

Just before 11 p.m., state police reported that all lanes of westbound I-94 at Gratiot Avenue in Detroit were closed due to flooding. Northbound M-39 at Rotunda in Dearborn was also underwater and closed.

Northbound I-75 at Nine Mile Road in Hazel Park and southbound M-39 after Grand River in Detroit were flooded and closed. 

St. Clair, Washtenaw, northern Oakland, southern Macomb and Livingston counties also saw severe weather. 

At 8:02 PM, NWS confirmed that radar indicated a tornado was located near Clarkston, moving east. But there was not an actual touchdown reported by NWS. 

“We are continuing to monitor the situation to support the safety of all residents in Oakland County,” Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said in a statement Saturday night. “We urge all residents to report downed wires and stay away from standing water.” 

Employees at the Oakland County Emergency Management (OCEM) department were monitoring emergency calls coming in to dispatchers, who were fielding reports of flooding, blocked roads and structural damage to homes and businesses. There have been no significant life safety issues reported due to the storm. 

“Many people are typically interested in the measured intensity of the storm,” said Rob Seeley, director of Oakland County Emergency Management. “That information is usually determined about 24 hours after a weather event as well as confirming reported touchdowns from private citizens.”

"The line is pushing to the southeast and the threat of thunderstorms will diminish as the night goes on," Varcie said.

Armada wasn't the only place to be hit hard. On Saturday afternoon, the second tornado in a month touched down in Port Austin in Michigan's Thumb region.

Varcie said the weather service received several reports of tornadoes on the ground in Port Austin between 4:25 p.m. and 4:35 p.m.

Varcie said the weather service has seen photos and videos and will conduct a storm survey.

On June 26 at about 5:49 p.m. an EF-2 tornado with peak winds estimated at 120 mph hit Port Austin and surrounding townships, leaving in its wake sheared-off trees, splintered limbs and damage to several homes.

Firefighters talk on W. Main St. in the Village of Armada as they remove trees from the street after a tornado touchdown, Saturday night, July 24, 2021.

Saturday, the weather service also issued and quickly canceled a tornado warning for southwestern Genesee County.

The weather service said at 6:25 p.m. radar confirmed a tornado was over Swartz Creek, or near Flushing, moving southeast at 20 mph., and a tornado warning was issued until 7 p.m.

However, at 6:43 p.m. the weather service said the threat had diminished and canceled the tornado warning. 

"Just as quickly as the rotation formed we saw it diminish," Varcie said.

Photographer Todd McInturf contributed.