At least 125 homes hammered by tornadoes in Michigan

Thursday night, Dexter, Mich. was hit by a tornado that left a 10-mile path of destruction. Two other tornadoes were reported in Michigan.

(AP Photo/AnnAbor.Com, Angela J. Cesere)
A house is missing part of its roof in Dexter, Mich., after a tornado hit the neighborhood on Thursday, March 15, 2012. The slow-moving storm was part of a system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds.

A solitary hand stuck out of the rubble of a home destroyed when a tornado ripped through a Michigan village leaving more than 100 homes in splinters.

The first officer on the scene, Washtenaw County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Yee, reached for the hand and pulled out an elderly man who was shaken but able to walk.

"That's the best part," Yee said. "Every place I went to, I would have thought I would have found somebody laying there — deceased or whatever. But, knock on wood, everybody was OK."

Initial estimates indicate the tornado that hit Dexter, northwest of Ann Arbor, Thursday evening was packing winds of around 135 mph, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Freitag said Friday. He said it was on the ground for about a half hour and plowed a path about 10 miles long.

IN PICTURES: Extreme Weather 2012

The storm, which flooded roads and tossed trees, was part of a slow-moving system packing large hail, heavy rain and high winds. Gusts downed power lines, sparking fires.

Sheriff's spokesman Derrick Jackson said 105 homes were significantly damaged in two neighborhoods of the hard-hit village and the surrounding area, and 13 were destroyed. Crews were assessing the damage.

There were no reports of serious injuries or fatalities, authorities said.

About two dozen homes in Sharon Carty's Huron Farms neighborhood "are pretty much unlivable," she said. "One house, the whole front of the house is gone. Folks whose houses were hit are pretty stunned. We don't get too many tornados around here."

She saw no evidence of any injuries.

Carty, 38, said she and her family heard the first weather siren around 5:15 p.m. and were in their basement when the tornado struck. Their house was untouched.

Jack Davidson, 63, said he was watching TV when he heard warning sirens go off near his home in Dexter, sending him and his wife to the basement.

When they emerged, they didn't see much damage at first and thought the storm had spared the area. But one look across the street revealed a different reality: a flattened self-serve carwash was among the damaged structures.

"It's bad," Davidson said. "The pizza shop's bad. But the worst damage is to the carwash."

Two blocks away, the twister didn't touch down.

"I guess we were just lucky we were in the right spot," Davidson said.

A sign that declares Dexter a "Tree City USA" community was bent and affixed to a telephone pole. Nearby, trees lay on the ground, rendering surrounding roads closed or impassable.

Freitag said a weaker tornado was on the ground for 3 to 5 minutes in Monroe County's Ida Township. He estimated those winds at 80 to 90 mph.

"We're getting absolutely hammered," Fire Capt. Jim Hemwall of Monroe County's Frenchtown Township said Thursday night. "We have funnel clouds spotted all around us."

Hemwall said a house in the town of Exeter was struck by lightning and debris swirled around another in Monroe County's Dundee.

A third possible tornado was reported in northwest Lapeer County, near Columbiaville. Authorities reported damage in a three-mile area there. The storm ripped a two-story home from its foundation, damaged barns and vehicles, and knocked down trees. It packed wind gusts of up to 70 mph in Lapeer County and 2-inch hail, the weather service said.

Survey teams from the weather service planned to be in Washtenaw, Monroe and Lapeer counties on Friday to examine the damage.

Police closed all roads into Dexter as darkness fell Thursday, and emergency personnel were conducting a door-to-door search for injured residents, said Jackson, the Washtenaw sheriff's spokesman. People needing shelter for the night were directed to a local school.

University of Michigan Health System spokeswoman Kara Gavin said patients were moved into hallways and window blinds were closed in rooms. Gavin said there were no reports of damage in or around the Ann Arbor hospitals.

The American Red Cross of Washtenaw and Lenawee counties planned to open a shelter at Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter and another in Ann Arbor, spokeswoman Jenni Hawes said.


Associated Press writers Corey Williams, David Runk, Jeff Karoub and David Aguilar contributed to this report from Detroit. Tom Krisher reported from Dexter.

IN PICTURES: Extreme Weather 2012

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