Tornado rips through northern Van Buren County, hitting Bangor and Grand Junction areas
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
GRAND JUNCTION — “It was only 30 seconds but it was the longest 30 seconds of my life.”
That's how Shelly Hartman, co-owner of True Blue Farms, described a tornado that swept through northern Van Buren County Saturday afternoon.
The tornado that swept through Bangor and Grand Junction left a narrow line of damage in its wake, but there were no reported injuries, according to the Michigan State Police post in Paw Paw. True Blue Farms blueberry packaging facilities appeared to bear the brunt of the tornado, suffering an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.
A mile north of True Blue, the tornado ripped off part of the roof at Columbia Township Hall, caused structural damage to nearly a dozen homes, and damaged many trees whose limbs blocked roadways and ripped down power lines.
The U.S. National Weather Service in Grand Rapids observed the tornado at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, near Bangor and issued an alert warning people in northern Van Buren County and southern Allegan County to take cover.
Bangor residents were the first ones hit by the tornado, which uprooted trees, damaged homes and blew off a large section of the new roof at the Bangor Police Station.
The warning, which many people received on their cell phones, took them by surprise.
“I was sitting outside of the office,” Hartman said, “and wondered what was going on? I looked at the sky and thought everything was OK.”
But then she saw trees and debris swirling around in the air.
“I thought, 'Oh my God, what is that?'” Hartman said. “There were trees, debris, paper flying around, and then there was this indescribable noise and glass breaking.”
The cell phone warning from the National Weather Service also surprised Ellie Rayna.
“When I first got the alert, I thought, 'we always get them,'” said Rayna, who lives at the corner of 51st Street and County Road 388, across the street from Columbia Township hall. “But then I heard something like a train and thought what's going on? she said, describing the tell-tale sound of a tornado.
Although the family has an underground shelter outside of their home there wasn't enough time for Rayna to grab her children and aging parents to take them there.
“My father is disabled,” she said. “We wouldn't get there in time.”
So Rayna resorted to grabbing her children and ushering everyone into a closet to wait out the tornado.
“We were OK,” she said. “We are very blessed.”
Several blocks away, Columbia Fire Chief Dave Johnson was at home, looked toward the sky and observed the tornado for himself.
“I actually saw it coming,” he said. “It went right through our yard on the east side. It sucked the siding off the northeast corner and the east gable end, soffit and facia came off.” The tornado also broke seven windows of Johnson's home, and damaged the roof, windows and door of his barn.
But he wasn't able to tend very long to his personal losses, because he had to help assess damage in the rest of the township.
“After the tornado went over our house, I made sure everyone was OK, looked at my wife and said, 'sorry honey, I gotta go.'"
One of Johnson's first stops was the township hall where part of the roof had blown off.
“We had a meeting here that ended at noon,” said Ada Lepure, township hall secretary. “Luckily they got out and nobody was here when the tornado came.”
The aftermath of the storm not only wrecked the roof, it also ruined the furnishings, computers and walls of the treasurer and supervisor's offices.
“We hope our (computer) server will be OK,” Lepure said. “We have to do something. We have to keep the township running.”
Getting True Blue Farms back to normal is also a priority for Hartman.
Nearly 100 workers and volunteers spent Saturday evening and Sunday cleaning up debris.
“We had people from Monte Packaging, Blue Star Farms and Thayer who came out and volunteer to help,” Hartman said.
Thousands of plastic lugs scattered all over the company's property had to be restacked; fallen trees and limbs cut up and removed; and broken glass cleared away. Trucks that had blown over onto their sides had to be righted. The machinery needed to be assessed and repaired if possible.
“The (fresh-pack) facility and offices were damaged heavily,” Hartman said. “But it (the tornado) didn't affect our processing (facility) at all. We're going to be up and running Monday. Nothing is keeping True Blue down.”
Despite the economic losses, Hartman said she is very grateful no one was hurt from the tornado.
“We had 65 people working here,” she said. “Everyone was trained (to seek shelter). They knew where to go.”
She also was grateful for the employees' willingness to step up and help with the cleanup.
“They said, 'we're not doing this on the clock, we're volunteering to help,” Hartman said.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, (left) and John Lohrstorfer, a volunteer for the Van Buren County Chapter of the American Red Cross, examine a home, Thursday, on the north side of Bangor that was heavily damaged from a tornado that went through town Aug. 20. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Bangor, Grand Junction still reeling from damage caused by EF-1 tornado
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
BANGOR — A week after an EF-1 tornado swept through town, Bangor residents are still trying to clean up the mess left by the twister that also caused damage in nearby Grand Junction.
And it's proving to be a daunting task.
Houses still need to be repaired, downed wires removed and fallen tree limbs cut and carted away.
Andrea Galvan's home on Second Street in Bangor is one of 13 in Bangor and Grand Junction that was heavily damaged after the tornado hit at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.
“Two trees fell into our home,” she said. “We have no insurance. There's nothing for us to do but build ourselves back up.”
Her neighbor, Natalio Perez, who lives on Bangor Street, faces the same situation. His home was wrecked when a tree fell right into the center of it and he doesn't have insurance.
“We were home when it happened,” Perez said. The family had no basement to seek shelter, so they cowered underneath a panel trying to protect themselves. His wife, Antonia and three young children managed to survive without injuries, but were clearly shaken by the tornado.
“Their son (Jose) still has nightmares,” Galvan said.
Luckily for the two families, a church group from Portage helped them to clear away the trees and debris so that they can at least live in their homes. The Van Buren County chapter of the American Red Cross has also been helping families like the Galvans and Perezes by setting up a shelter in the Bangor American Legion Hall to provide people with lunches, dinners, tarps, rakes and other cleanup supplies.
“We started assessing the damage Sunday (Aug. 21),” said Martha Lohrstorfer, disaster assistance team leader. “We identified 42 homes in Bangor and Grand Junction that were damaged. Of that number 13 suffered major damage or were destroyed.”
Because power lines were brought down during the tornado, electricity and phone was cut off so that crews could safely repair the lines, but that also meant Bangor residents were left without power and phone service for several days.
As a result, the Red Cross worked with the Legion to offer free lunches and meals.
“People had no power and their food went bad,” Lohrstorfer said.
Yet even with the assistance of the Red Cross, Bangor city officials still face an uphill battle in clearing away the mess left behind from the tornado.
According to City Manager Regina Hoover it appears unlikely the town will receive any emergency financial assistance from the state or federal government.
“It doesn't look good,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton traveled to Bangor, Thursday, to get a first-hand look at the damage and to thank the Red Cross volunteers for their efforts. He too said it is uncertain whether the town suffered enough damage to warrant emergency aid.
However, five other tornados ripped through Allegan, Ottawa, Kent, Montcalm and Ingham counties on Aug. 20, as well, according to the National Weather Service.
If the damage from one of those other tornados is deemed eligible for funding, there is a chance that Bangor and Grand Junction, which are in Van Buren County, could benefit.
“Often adjoining counties can become eligible. If that is the case, I would urge FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) to expedite funding,” he said.
In the meantime, Bangor has been relying on the generosity and goodwill of its residents and surrounding neighbors to help with clean up.
“Krohn Excavating spent two days volunteering with tree removal,” Hoover said. We Care in the Name of Christ human service ministry, St. Vincent de Paul, and several church groups have also been providing assistance to people. MBG Marketing has offered to donate money, as have several other businesses and individuals.
“All of the help has been inspirational,” Hoover said.
But there's still a lot of work to do. Trying to come up with money to complete tree clearing and other damage is a worry for city officials who operate on a tight budget.
“We'll do the best we can with what we have,” Hoover said.
True Blue Farms co-owner Shelly Hartman (brown coat) gets a hug while assessing the damage a tornado caused to buildings, Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Ada Lepure (grey shirt), Columbia Township hall secretary, stands with two other people outside the township hall, which was heavily damaged from the tornado. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Shelly Hartman (left) and Patrice Hartman survey the damage a tornado caused to offices at Trube Blue Farms. (Photo by Becky Kark)
True Blue Farms employees and volunteers spent Saturday evening and Sunday clearing away fallen tree limbs and other debris. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Part of the roof of the Bangor Police Station blew off during Saturday's tornado. (Photo by Kim Ingalls).
Sophia Rodas (right) and her grandmother spent Sunday helping the rest of the family in clearing away limbs and branches from their yard in Grand Junction. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Saturday's tornado uprooted many trees and caused tree limbs to fall in Bangor. The photo above shows fallen tree limbs in front of Simpson United Methodist Church. (Photo by Sheryl Kaptur)
Columbia Township hall is shown Saturday shortly after the tornado destroyed a portion of its roof and part of the building. (Photo by Kelly Weber)
Part of the roof of this two-story home on County Road 681 sufered damage from the tornado. (Photo by Kelly Weber)
Smoke from a downed electrical power line can be seen in the lower right-hand portion of this photo taken near Grand Junction. (Photo by Kelly Weber)
The tornado damaged this home and yard in Bangor. Falling limbs downed the power line near the home as well as a stop sign. (Photo by Sheryl Kaptur)
Sgt. Wayne Polomcak (holding clipboard) of the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department Office of Disaster Preparedness talks with a Grand Junction resident, Sunday morning. Polomcak and Lt. Bob Kirk spent the day assessing the damage that occurred to homes and businesses in northern Van Buren County from Saturday's tornado. (Photo by Becky Kark)
Antonia and Natalio Perez and their 6-year-old son Jose eat lunch, Thursday, at the temporary Red Cross shelter that was set up in the Bangor American Legion to assist tornado victims in Bangor. The Red Cross and the Legion provided more than 200 meals in the past several days to local residents. (Photo by Becky Kark)
A car, heavily damaged by falling tree limbs, still sat in a parking lot in Bangor six days after the tornado struck Bangor.
A piece of metal twisted itself around stop sign in Grand Junction across from Columbia Township hall, whose roof was damaged from the tornado. (Photo by Kelly Weber)
After Saturday's tornado struck, many roads in Bangor, like this one, were littered with tree limbs. Most of the roads were cleared by Saturday evening so that utility crews could begin repairing downed power lines. (Photo by Kelly Weber)
This home on Bangor Street in Bangor is nearly hidden from the trees that fell on it after Saturday's tornado. The north side of Bangor bore the brunt of the tornado's wrath. (Photo by Kelly Weber)