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Published: Monday, 6/7/2010

Twister takes toll on nerves, property

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DUNDEE, Mich. - The tornado warnings were of little help to Dundee resident Robert J. Rudat.

At 2 a.m. yesterday, the 23-year-old, who lives with his aunt in a rural area outside the village, got a call from a cousin who was watching the news. She told him a tornado could be heading his way in 30 minutes.

Just 10 minutes later, as Mr. Rudat stood in his kitchen wondering whether to wake up his aunt, the devastation hit.

"The lights went out, loud winds, windows exploding, roof flying off, ceiling caving in," a shaken Mr. Rudat said. "It was pretty terrifying."

Sunday afternoon, as Mr. Rudat surveyed the mutilated apartment complex at 4820 Dennison Rd., it was clear neither he nor his neighbors would be calling it home again any time soon. The building, and two other nearby homes, had become mangled wrecks of smashed wood, torn-off roofs, broken glass, and scattered furniture and other debris.

David Northam, left, and his friend Robert J. Rudat assess the damage to Mr. Northam's future father-in-law's apartment on Dennison Road, site of some of the worst devastation in Dundee. David Northam, left, and his friend Robert J. Rudat assess the damage to Mr. Northam's future father-in-law's apartment on Dennison Road, site of some of the worst devastation in Dundee.
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Miraculously, no one in those homes or in other parts of Dundee was seriously hurt in the tornado, which authorities said touched down at 2:17 a.m. Monroe County emergency officials reported only a few minor injuries as a result of the storm, and said 10 people were taken to hospitals. One woman was trapped in rubble after her home collapsed but was rescued and not seriously hurt, said Dan Smith, a spokesman for Monroe County Emergency Operation Center.

Damaged property and wracked nerves were everywhere.

Along M-50 near the junction of U.S. 23, the Holiday Inn Express hotel and several surrounding businesses sustained extensive damage.

Large chunks of roof and sidewall on the hotel and adjoining Splash Universe indoor water park were blown away, leaving exposed metal, wooden beams, and soggy insulation. Much of the area was without power.

Rob Evans, vice president of operations for the hotel, said all 164 rooms were booked when the storm hit, and many of the people staying there were attending an American Legion convention across the street at the Cabela's store. None of the guests was hurt, but all were evacuated to Dundee Middle School after the storm. They were allowed to return to the hotel yesterday morning to retrieve their belongings.

Next door, the manager of a Marathon gas station was still recovering from his late-night ordeal. After closing the store Saturday night, Mohammad Kassem returned at 2:15 a.m. yesterday when he received a call telling him the alarms were going off at the store. He'd heard the tornado warning but didn't take it seriously.

"I wasn't here a minute and all this debris was hitting my car," Mr. Kassem said. "My car actually lifted up. I couldn't get out. I was like, what the hell's happening?"

The manager got away in his car unscathed, but the gas station took a beating. Several gas pumps were knocked over, much of the awning was pulled off, and some of the walls and windows of the store were badly damaged.

Co-owner Mike Abdallah estimated the damage at about $250,000. "I guess this is something we have no control over," he shrugged. "It's Mother Nature."

Monroe County officials gave no dollar estimate yesterday for the cost of the damage in Dundee. However, many homes sustained damage to roofs and other structures, several barns and sheds were flattened, and trees were knocked down throughout the village.

On Dennison Road, site of some of the worst devastation, one home moved about five feet off its foundation to leave a gaping hole in the ground. Next to it, a brand new Jeep had smashed up against the wall and a 28-foot camper van had been thrown on its side.

Tim Stowell, who was standing outside, said his son had lived in the house with his fiance and 1-year-old son. He said his son's head was injured during the tornado and needed five staples, and he suffered a mild heart attack.

"Lucky he's alive, that's all I can say," Mr. Stowell said. "God was looking out for him."

After assessing the damage to the area by helicopter yesterday morning, Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said he believed the tornado traveled west toward the village and then crossed over to the north side of M-50 around Cabela Boulevard. He said the village had been fortunate.

"This is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it could have been far worse," Mr. Crutchfield said. "The village was very lucky; the county was very lucky."

Monroe County authorities also reported minor damage at the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant in Frenchtown Township.

Wind damaged an exterior wall at the plant, causing the reactor to shut down automatically.

No injuries were reported in that incident, but one worker was injured during subsequent efforts to restore utility power to the plant. That worker, not identified by authorities, was sent to a hospital for treatment of injuries that were not considered life-threatenting.

Dundee Schools Superintendent Bruce Nelson said yesterday's graduation ceremony was canceled because of power outages. He also said there would be no school today.

Around 600,000 homes in the Mornoe County area remained without power Monday as a result of the tornadoes that hit the area over the weekend.

Eileen Dixon, a spokesman for DTE Energy in Detroit, said more than 200 utility poles were broken in the storm and that it could take until Wednesday to restore power to all customers.

“We've got crews down there right now working around the clock to get power restored, but that area - particularly in Dundee - was very badly hit," she said. "There's quite a bit of work to do.”

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.


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