FOX6 Web Fix: Tornado hits Dexter Michigan

DEXTER, Mich. (AP) -- Sometime after a tornado ripped through this rural Michigan village, a solitary hand rose from the rubble of a destroyed home.

The first officer on the scene reached for the hand and pulled out an elderly man who was shaken but able to walk.

"That's the best part," Deputy Ray Yee said. "Every place I went to, I would have thought I would have found somebody laying there -- deceased or whatever. But, knock on wood, everybody was OK."

The twister that hit Dexter on Thursday evening damaged more than 100 homes and destroyed 13. But no one was seriously hurt.

"We're confident that we're not missing anybody," Fire Chief Loren Yates said Friday.

Initial estimates were that the storm had winds of around 135 mph and lingered on the ground for about a half-hour, plowing a path about 10 miles long. The tornado was part of a slow-moving system that also brought large hail, heavy rain and high winds. Gusts downed power lines, sparking fires.

Yates was amazed that no serious injuries were reported. He credited warnings issued ahead of the tornado.

By midday Friday, the buzz of chainsaws and the groans of heavy machinery filled the air as families sorted through the remains of houses that had been turned to splinters in the community northwest of Ann Arbor.

"I'm thankful to God that there were no serious injuries or fatalities with all this devastation," said Mark Olexa, standing in front of a 50-foot tree that was uprooted in front of his home.

A nearby pizza shop and dry cleaners weren't spared.

"It was eerie this morning," said Olexa, a handyman and commercial property manager. "There was a heavy fog. And it added to the horrific-ness of the event."

A few blocks from Olexa's home, Ron Henderson stood on his front lawn, surveying the damage.

The previous evening, he was watching television when the announcer said the storm might take aim at Dexter.

"And it did," he said with a chuckle.

Henderson, his wife and son didn't have time to get to the basement of their home, and instead cowered by the bed as the tornado blew past.

About two dozen homes in the Huron Farms neighborhood "are pretty much unlivable," Sharon Carty said. "One house, the whole front of the house is gone. Folks whose houses were hit are pretty stunned. We don't get too many tornados around here."

Carty said she and her family heard the first weather siren around 5:15 p.m. and were in their basement when the tornado struck. Their house was untouched.

Perry Samson, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Michigan, said it's "relatively rare" to have such a powerful tornado in the state at this time of year. In January 2008, with temperatures in the 60s, tornadoes developed in southeastern Wisconsin. Temperatures topped 70 on Thursday in Michigan.

"Extra moisture and extra heat certainly contributed to the instability that we had. ... We didn't see this coming," Samson said Friday from the Ann Arbor campus, 10 miles from Dexter. "We're still scratching our heads."

Jack Davidson said he was watching TV when he heard warning sirens go off near his home, sending him and his wife to the basement.

When they emerged, they didn't see much damage at first and thought the storm had spared the area. But one look across the street revealed a different reality: a flattened self-serve carwash was among the damaged structures.

"It's bad," Davidson said. "The pizza shop's bad. But the worst damage is to the carwash."

Two blocks away, the twister didn't even touch down.

"I guess we were just lucky we were in the right spot," Davidson said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Freitag said a weaker tornado was on the ground for three to five minutes in Monroe County's Ida Township. He estimated those winds at 80 to 90 mph.

A third possible tornado was reported in Lapeer County, near Columbiaville, where authorities found damage across a three-mile area. The storm ripped a two-story home from its foundation, damaged barns and vehicles and knocked down trees.