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Recovery efforts continue in Gaylord as residents clear wreckage after tornado

damage at a mobile home park in Gaylord with several destroyed structures and debris
Taylor Wizner
An RV storage lot was completely destroyed by a tornado that swept through Gaylord on May 20, 2022.

A large EF3 tornado touched down in Gaylord on Friday. In the 26 minutes it moved across Otsego County, winds reaching 140 miles per hour caused two deaths and, as of last count, 44 injuries.

Over the weekend, shocked residents cleared away the wreckage of their homes.

William McQueen was at work as a trucker, hauling freight somewhere between Chicago and Detroit when a tornado hit his home in Gaylord. When he returned on Saturday, he could hardly believe what he saw.

“This is a 1970 house with a flat roof, but there’s no roof to be found," he said. "I bought this about five years ago and everything’s gone. Gone.”
His two parakeets were missing, but fortunately his family was alright. His daughter Kimberly and her four young children were home when the tornado hit. William later learned what happened to them.

This is a 1970 house with a flat roof, but there’s no roof to be found. I bought this about five years ago and everything’s gone.
Gaylord Resident William McQueen

Kimberly told him the force of the winds almost sucked his 6-year-old granddaughter Sophia out of a window. His daughter grabbed the girl by the foot mid-air.

“And drew her back in, laid on top of her, shoved the boys underneath the couch, the futon that we have, and that’s why they were more protected, he said.”

William says his daughter had more than 25 pieces of glass in her back. Sophia had a big gash on her forehead. They were being treated overnight at the hospital in Petoskey.

Several parts of Gaylord took the brunt of the storm. Warehouse stores crumbled in a commercial area of town.

Next door, at the Nottingham Forest mobile home park, the Michigan State Police reported two residents in their 70s died.

On Saturday, McQueen looked through the rubble for cherished mementos. He found a toy train that holds sentimental value.

“It goes around on a little track in a tin box that I bought out west when I visited,” he said.

Some family photos were also spared including a picture of him and his granddaughter.

Across the street, Mike Frazee looked at the damage to his boat. He had just purchased it two days before.

“And we insured it at 1 p.m. or 2 before the storm," he said. "Hopefully it goes through, because, yeah, I’m sure there’s damage on the other side. The whole tree was on it.”

A woman wearing work gloves also stopped by see if he needed any help.

"We had a few people helping us today which is nice because we had everything aside from this big stuff," Frazee said.

Mike is still shaken by the events Friday. That afternoon he’d been trying to get a few hours of sleep before his shift as a Boyne City police officer.

He woke up to a swirl of dust and debris pouring into his mouth and eyes. He pulled his blanket over his face as his wife Maria ran into the room.

“I looked up, and it was kind of grainy with everything falling on my face," he said. "That’s when I turned because I was like ‘How can I see outside right now?'”

Mike says it only lasted about 30 seconds before it was all over.

His bedroom wall had separated, and the living room where his wife had been studying was filled with jagged shards of glass. Their 75-inch TV was destroyed.

Looking across the street at a car flipped over on its roof, Mike was thankful for his luck.

“I am very grateful that this wall held up because with what happened to that vehicle over there, I definitely know if the wall would’ve went I would’ve went too,” he said.

There are almost never tornadoes in northern Michigan. Gaylord doesn’t even have a siren to warn people.

Mike says he never expected to worry about it when he moved from Kansas two years ago.

“We’re now in northern Michigan, and one goes right through the city that we live in now. And we’re like, 'Are you kidding me?’ We thought we got away from that, but here we are,” he says.

Shock at the damage soon turned into an outpouring of support from the community.

All day Saturday, neighbors arrived on foot or by bike to help with the cleanup. Some came to town from as far away as Sault Ste Marie and the Lansing area. The helpers, emergency responders and utility workers made quick progress.

By Sunday, the Michigan State Police said all residents were accounted for and power had been restored to almost everyone. Recovery efforts were still ongoing.

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