The twister — with maximum winds of 150 mph — also injured 44 people as it tore through the town of Gaylord, which sits about 60 miles east of Traverse City in the state’s Lower Peninsula, causing what officials describe as “catastrophic” damage.
“It took out an insane amount of buildings and just jeopardized so many lives,” said Jordan Awrey, a Gaylord City Council member. “The town is devastated.”
Both victims were in the Nottingham Forest mobile home park and were in their 70s, according to Michigan State Police. Officials are still working on notifying the family of one of the victims.
The tornado touched down in a bustling part of the city, home to shops, restaurants and retail stores — some of which were destroyed.
Photos of the damage show streets littered with debris, businesses with roofs and walls torn off, and cars completely flipped over. Roads were also blocked by downed trees and power lines.
“It is a busy downtown area, and it went right through it,” said Lt. Jim Gorno of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, describing the aftermath as “catastrophic.”
“Out of the (Nottingham Forest) mobile home park there is probably 95% destruction in there,” Otsego County Fire Department Chief Chris Martin said. “There had been trailers picked up and turned over on top of each other and, you know, just a very large debris field from the trailers.”
Brandon Smith, a 26-year-old Gaylord resident, said he was standing outside his house about a quarter of a mile from the tornado when he saw it rolling over some trees, recalling that it sounded like a freight train.
“I imagine it was deafening for those in its path,” Smith said. “We’re used to snow and that doesn’t bother us but to see that type of weather just shocked everyone.”
Michigan averages just 15 tornadoes per year, the state’s website shows. About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau.
“It’s northern Michigan, it’s very rare we get a tornado,” said Gabe Awrey, a resident and the council member’s brother.
Thirty-five people were taken to their system’s hospitals for treatment, and another eight people were treated at facilities elsewhere, Munson Healthcare spokesperson Brian Lawson told CNN. Michigan State Police said the number of injured is 44.
Gaylord was under a curfew until 8 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
A video taken by Dawn Grubaugh, who was in her truck with her partner as the tornado headed toward them, shows the aftermath of destruction.
The couple had taken cover inside a car wash, and when they got out of their vehicle they noticed that buildings around them, including a Hobby Lobby, had been ripped apart.