Fierce storms batter area; 1 twister touches down; At least 30 people injured

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

A tight cell of extremely severe weather pounded a path across southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio last night, spawning funnel clouds, one tornado that touched down along the Lake Erie coastline, and injuring at least 30 people.

Ottawa County’s Carroll and Erie townships – near the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and in the Camp Perry area, respectively – were hardest hit, with a report of serious damage done to the Green Cove Condominium Resort, Green Cove Marina, and Wild Wings trailer park at State Rt. 2 and Russell Road, just west of the power plant.

The tornado touched down near Davis-Besse, authorities said.

An 18-foot boat with two people aboard was reported to be taking on water about 9 p.m. off West Sister Island, according to the Coast Guard station at Bay View Park in Point Place. They and the Coast Guard’s Detroit Group were still searching for the boaters as of 12:45 a.m. today.

No fatalities were reported, but numerous ambulance and fire units were sent to the area to deal with the injuries. There were reports of damaged houses and barns, trees and utility poles that had been blown down, and widespread power outages.

The Ottawa County sheriff’s department declared a state of emergency and stopped all traffic into the county. At least two shelters were opened for those left homeless.

Route 2 was closed between Bono and the Edison Bridge near Sandusky.

Air ambulances took at least two people to Toledo hospitals, one to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center and the other to Medical College of Ohio Hospital. The victims’ conditions were not available early today.

Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton had treated about 20 people by midnight, and expected more.

Fremont Memorial Hospital had treated eight people by midnight.

St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon received one storm victim.

At the Green Cove condo development several of the buildings were flattened. Around the complex, insulation and pieces of the structures were strewn across the ground, draping road signs.

George Randas, president of the Green Cove Resort One Owners Association, who said he “saw the sky spinning,” estimated the damage to the complex at $3 million, a figure he called “probably low.

“This one’s gone, gone, gone, gone,” he said, pointing at one of two condo buildings he called “totally wasted.”

He estimated at least 200 of the development’s roughly 380 condos were damaged.

Mary Klosinksi witnessed the storm from under a mattress in her condo, with her 4-year-old grandson tight against her.

Ms. Klosinski’s daughter, Dawn, was waiting tables at the Toussaint Restaurant and Lounge on Route 2 when the storm hit. About 10 to 15 customers took refuge in a walk-in cooler. Dawn had just rented one of the condos earlier in the day; it was not damaged.

David Matzinger, of nearby Sand Beach, said that 20 minutes of wind and rain knocked trees onto house roofs and tore power lines, sealing the area in darkness.

“It certainly was a hell of a wind storm,” Mr. Matzinger said. In his house on the lake, a sliding door was blown off its track and into the living room.

“The wind and the rain was coming down so hard that if it was a funnel, I don’t think anyone would have seen it,” Mr. Matzinger said. “It was a mess.”

Davis-Besse shut down automatically when transmission lines between it and a plant in Pennsylvania were severed because of the storm, Edison spokesman Chuck Krueger said.

Three of the utility’s high-tension transmission line towers were toppled in Ottawa County.

At Camp Perry in Ottawa County, a motel’s roof was blown off.

So surgical were the strikes that cities less than 10 miles from tornado sightings reported nothing more severe than a heavy breeze.

The storm began to move into the area about 6:30 p.m. National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated a developing tornado 16 miles west of Ann Arbor, Mich., or 15 miles northwest of Saline, Mich., moving southeast at 30 mph.

As it moved through Monroe County, the storm produced 60 mph winds in Carleton and Temperance, and three-quarter-inch hail at the Fermi II nuclear power plant near Monroe, according to the weather service.

About 35 minutes later, Doppler radar indicated a tornado 11 miles northwest of Port Clinton, or 10 miles northwest of Catawba Island, moving southeast at 25 mph. A law enforcement officer indicated a possible tornado touchdown near Jerusalem Township, the weather service said.

A tornado was reported on the ground at 8:55 p.m. near Davis-Besse, the weather service said.

In Sandusky County, south of Ottawa County, roofs had been blown off buildings, trees were down, and a silo had been knocked down, said Bea Parrish, director of the Sandusky County Emergency Management Agency.

She said the storm moved through Fremont and hit Vickery and Clyde, which was without power.

On the Ohio Turnpike, at 9:21 p.m., the highway patrol received calls for five accidents within four miles of one another, between mile markers 94 and 98 in the Fremont area. At each accident, a tractor-trailer had been flipped over. Three people were injured in the accidents, and all were taken to Memorial Hospital in Fremont.

Toledo Edison spokeswoman Luann Sharp said about 4,000 customers were without power in Point Place, along with an undetermined number in Ottawa County and other neighboring counties.

Storm damage shut off Ottawa County’s normal police radio system, forcing officers and dispatchers to switch to old equipment.

On State Rt. 53 near Port Clinton, traffic was backed up for more than a mile while workers removed trees and other debris from the road.

About 100 yards north of Little Portage Road, a massive uprooted tree blocked northbound traffic on Route 53.

Nearby, two cabin cruisers, one about 25 feet long, apparently had been blown from the Happy Days Boating Co.’s lot onto the road. The boats were removed to a roadside ditch so that traffic could pass.

The storm first blew up over southwestern Michigan in the early evening, then tracked through Ann Arbor, where baseball-sized hail and winds over 70 mph were reported, according to Laura Hannon, a meteorologist for AccuWeather, Inc., a private forecasting service in State College, Pa.

The storm gained strength over Lake Erie, Ms. Hannon said.

From there, “it just creamed Ottawa County,” she said.

“It’s one lone supercell thunderstorm,” Ms. Hannon said. “It’s not a line of storms. It’s very focused, very tight, very surgical.”

She said the supercell was caused by instability as two airmasses collided over the area.

In Oregon, as throughout the region, trees were knocked down on cars and power wires.

“It just came up fast, blowing hard,” said Randy Gillen, a foreman for Oregon’s street department who saw the storm coming from his Colchester Road home and was cleaning up the city afterward. He said a mobile home had been overturned at Bay Shore and Stadium roads.

“The sky was white, then it was yellow, then it just picked up the water right out of the lake and dumped it on us, like a wall of water,” said Dave Wohlgamuth, who lives on Lakeway Drive and saw the storm approach while standing on the shoreline.

He ran back to his house, where it took the strength of three people to close his front door.

Monroe County reported severe weather, with lots of heavy wind and trees down, but no funnel clouds.

Blade staff writers Mike Bartell, Kim Bates, Dee Drummond, Tom Henry, Tom Jewell, Mark Reiter, Jane Schmucker, and Vanessa Gezari, Blade news assistant Lillian Covarrubias, and Blade correspondents Gene Parsons and Greg Peiffer contributed to this report.