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Michigan FedEx Facility Ripped Apart by Tornado

Severe storms barreled through the central U.S. late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

FedEx trucks outside a damaged FedEx facility in Portage, Mich., May 7, 2024.
FedEx trucks outside a damaged FedEx facility in Portage, Mich., May 7, 2024.
Brad Devereaux/Kalamazoo Gazette via AP

PAVILION TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — At least eight tornadoes have touched down in Ohio and three have been confirmed in Michigan as severe storms barreled through the central U.S. late Tuesday and early Wednesday, killing one man in Tennessee when a tree toppled onto a vehicle he was in.

The storm that rumbled across northeastern Tennessee brought high winds that knocked down powerlines and trees. Claiborne County Sheriff Bob Brooks said a 22-year-old man was in a car struck by one of the trees.

The National Weather Service says confirmed tornadoes touched down Tuesday in Ohio, including five in Warren County in the state's southwest region. The confirmations came Wednesday after crews were able to survey the damage caused by the strong storms that contained hail and heavy rains and knocked out power to thousands of utility customers.

Weather service meteorologist in Michigan Nathan Jeruzal said the tornadoes there touched down one each in Kalamazoo, Cass and Branch counties — all in the southwestern part of the state.

Kalamazoo County's Portage area was hard hit as a FedEx facility was ripped apart and more than a dozen mobile homes were destroyed.

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.

Samantha Smith clutched a box Wednesday afternoon as she stepped from her mother's partially wrecked home in Michigan's Pavilion Township, about 137 miles (220 kilometers) west of Detroit. Inside the box were her grandmother's ashes. Being able to recover the most cherished of items offered Smith a rare moment of relief amid the storm's devastation.

"Finding this box is the best thing that's happened to me these past 24 hours," she said. "The main thing we were all worried about was my grandma's ashes."

Her parents and brother were injured during the storm. Her brother suffered a broken pelvis and broken back, but he and other victims all survived, Smith added.

"I have thanked God probably a billion times since this happened yesterday," she said. "My kids are healthy and good. We just gotta make back up what we lost."

In southern Indiana, the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado with a preliminary EF-0 rating and 85 mph (137 kph) winds touched down early Wednesday, damaging homes in a subdivision north of the city of Sellersburg, located about 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Clark County Emergency Management Agency said the storm damaged 24 structures.

Candice Holmes, a resident of the Lewis & Clark subdivision north of Sellersburg, said she, her husband and son sought shelter in their bathroom when they heard the approaching storm and "the wind just picked up all at once."

"My husband and my son stepped outside, opened the door and they slammed the door and ran back to the bathroom. And they held the bathroom door shut, as it came through," Holmes told WDRB-TV. "It was over as soon as it started, but it was definitely a scary moment. And I'm glad we're alive."

In addition to the five in Warren County, confirmed tornadoes in Ohio were in the western part of the state in Greenville in Darke County, west of Coldwater in Mercer County and west of New Knoxville in Auglaize County. The weather service says crews are still surveying areas of Franklin and Butler counties to determine if tornadoes struck there, as well.

Just outside of Pittsburgh, a weather service team confirmed that a brief tornado with maximum winds of 105 mph (169 kph) overturned a trailer and snapped more than a dozen trees early Wednesday in Findlay Township, Pennsylvania.

Baseball-sized hail was reported Wednesday in areas just southwest of St. Louis, Missouri. Heavy downpours caused flash flooding and at least one water rescue near Sullivan, a town that was struck by a small tornado just two days earlier, destroying a bar and damaging the high school. Damaging hail also was reported in the Kansas City area.

Radar indicated Hancock County, West Virginia, and 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.

A National Weather Service team also was headed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to survey damage and determine the strength of a tornado that hit early Wednesday morning, forecaster Tabitha Clarke said.

The tornado damaged some homes, uprooted trees and downed power lines. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the tornado, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

In Portage, Michigan, about 50 people temporarily were trapped inside a damaged FedEx facility because of downed power lines. More than a dozen homes were destroyed in a mobile home park in adjacent Pavilion Township and 16 people were injured, said Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller.

"We found homes in the roadway," Fuller said late Tuesday. "We found homes in neighbors' homes. We found large trees in homes."

Power was knocked out to more than 20,000 people.

"We're looking at homes throughout this community that are totally gone, they've been demolished," Fuller said in the light of day 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."

Travis Wycoff ventured out Tuesday night after seeing on radar that a tornado had touched down in the Portage area. About five minutes later, he came upon the aftermath.

"There were a lot of people running through the streets trying to find people and their pets," Wycoff said. "It was just a lot of chaos."

Wycoff said he helped an elderly couple out of their partially collapsed home and also freed a service dog from a home whose owner was at work.

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.

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.

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.

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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