The twister also injured 44 people as it ripped through the town of Gaylord, about 60 miles east of Traverse City on the state’s Lower Peninsula, causing what officials describe as “catastrophic” damage.
“It took an insane amount of buildings and put so many lives at risk,” said Jordan Awrey, a Gaylord city councilor. “The city is destroyed.”
Both victims were in Nottingham Forest mobile home park and are in their 70s, according to Michigan State Police. Officials are still notifying the family of one of the victims.
The tornado touched down in a bustling part of the city, home to shops, restaurants and shops – some of which were destroyed.
Photos of the damage show streets littered with rubble, businesses with torn roofs and walls, and cars completely overturned. Roads were also blocked by fallen trees and power lines.
“It’s a busy downtown area and it went right through it,” said Lieutenant Jim Gorno of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, who described the aftermath as “catastrophic.”
“Outside of the (Nottingham Forest) mobile home park there is probably 95% destruction there,” said Otsego County Fire Chief Chris Martin. “There were trailers picked up and tipped on top of each other and, you know, just a really big debris field from the trailers.”
Brandon Smith, a 26-year-old Gaylord resident, said he was standing in front of his house, about a quarter of a mile from the tornado, when he saw the tornado roll over trees, remembering it sounded like a freight train.
“I can imagine it was deafening for those who got in his way,” Smith said. “We’re used to snow and it doesn’t bother us, but to see that kind of weather just shocked everyone.”
Michigan averages just 15 tornadoes a year, according to the state’s website. About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau.
“It’s Northern Michigan, it’s very rare that we get a tornado,” said Gabe Awrey, a resident and the councilman’s brother.
Munson Healthcare spokesperson Brian Lawson told DailyExpertNews that 35 people were taken to their system’s hospitals for treatment and an additional eight people were being treated elsewhere. Michigan state police said the number of injured is 44.
Gaylord is under a curfew until 8 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
A video taken by Dawn Grubaugh, who was sitting in her truck with her partner when the tornado came toward them, shows the aftermath of destruction.
The couple had taken cover in a car wash and when they got out of their vehicle, they noticed buildings around them, including a Hobby Lobby, had been torn apart.
More than a dozen homes and up to 50 cars were lost to the tornado, Gaylord Mayor Todd Sharrard told DailyExpertNews, adding that cleanup efforts are underway.
“Gaylord’s community is very, very strong and close-knit,” Sharrard said. “The cleanup is happening right now. Between anyone and everyone who has a chainsaw or a rack or a shovel, our community is just cleaning up.”
Governor declares state of emergency
The tornado has been rated an EF-3, with winds of 140 mph, based on a preliminary damage survey from the National Weather Service (NWS). NWS meteorologists are continuing their damage assessment and will release additional details as the investigation progresses.
The twister hit west of downtown near Interstate 75 and moved east to northeast, National Weather Service meteorologist Sean Christensen told DailyExpertNews.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the county after the tornado.
“We are making all state resources available in conjunction with local response and recovery efforts,” Whitmer said at a news conference in Gaylord Friday night.
“My heart goes out to the families and small businesses affected by the Gaylord tornado and storm,” she said on social media. “To the entire Gaylord community — Michigan is with you. We will do whatever it takes to rebuild.”
DailyExpertNews’s Sharif Paget, Steve Almasy, Michelle Watson, Rebekah Riess. and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.