An EF-1 tornado ripped through the town of Portland on June 22, ripping across the property and facilities of the headquarters of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Co-op, and causing major damage to about 11 other businesses, 70 homes, and four churches. About five people received minor injuries, with no fatalities.
The HomeWorks Tri-County office in Portland was damaged in several areas, but the Co-op was still able to run operations from the building, and no employees were hurt. “We lost power to about 1,470 customers for a short time after the tornado, due to a high-line fuse in the Wolverine Power Cooperative substation on our property, but that was minimal,” reports HomeWorks General Manager Mark Kappler. “We also had a few outages on one of the substation feeders, but once those had been taken care of and the line patrolled for other issues, we were able to release our crews, and two contractor crews, to provide mutual aid to the City of Portland’s electric department.”
Among other damage, Tri-County lost the entrance gate, an overhead door to the truck garage, and an Operations center window, and a propane shed was tossed around the yard. In the office area, wind tore many small pieces from the outside of the building, and its suction caused some damage to the roof and ceilings over a couple of offices. Initial estimates of damage were about $100,000, and contractors have already been lined up for the repairs.
Many large trees were snapped off and one just missed hitting the Community Solar Garden. A family of raptors lost their home, leaving a young hawk clinging to a low branch while crews worked around it. “We made it a priority to take care of this baby, since its parents were lost to the storm,” Kappler said. “We contacted area wildlife rescue groups and Chris Reed, Chris Teachout, and Jon Shattuck worked together to safely capture the hawk and get it to a raptor rescue center in Dewitt.”
Many employees also found damage to their cars in the west parking lot, the direction the storm came from. Fortunately, no employees’ homes were in the storm’s path.
In other areas, the roofs of several buildings were torn off, including the First Baptist Church, which recently celebrated 175 years and may now have to be torn down completely because of a crack in the structure, notes Doug Snitgen, a Portland resident and MECA assistant manager. The historic Congregational Church has also been demolished, just days after the congregation completed work on a new bell steeple, and the United Methodist Church was severely damaged. The local Goodwill store collapsed, trapping shoppers among the debris.
On the state’s sunrise side, Thumb Electric Cooperative was also hit. “We had an EF1 tornado in Sanilac County and an EF2 in Tuscola, with 2,548 outages at one point in the storm, but power was restored to all members within two days after the storm hit,” reports General Manager Dallas Braun. “Personally, I’ve never seen so many barns that were flattened, and there was debris everywhere,” adds Brad Essenmacher, the co-op’s member services manager.
“The City of Portland itself had help from at least three local municipals, as well as HomeWorks Tri-County, in repairing the damage to power lines,” McElroy reported. Thumb Electric had help from Bay City, Sebewaing and area contractors. Emergency crews from as many as 10 different departments responded to help the city, including putting out one structure fire, and numerous gas leaks were reported.
“I would like to thank everybody for utilizing the proper channels for mutual aid needs,” McElroy adds. “To say the least, communication in and out of the Portland area was challenging.”
The National Weather Service described the Portland area tornado as lasting about 10 minutes and leaving a trail of destruction about four miles long, 50 to 100 yards wide, and reaching peak winds of about 100 mph. Visit http://woodtv.com/2015/06/22/portland-goodwill-roof-collapses-people-trapped-inside/ for videos and stories from community members. Visit http://www.mlive.com/saginaw/#/5to find more on the Thumb area tornado.
“Someone started putting the phrase Portland Strong on signs right after the storm, and it’s true,” says Jayne Graham, manager of communications at HomeWorks Tri-County. “Within minutes of the storm passing, you could hear chain saws all over town as neighbors cleared trees from the roads. A new Facebook community was created to keep track of who still needs what kind of clean-up help, groups that are offering assistance, and food and water donations for the workers.
“And St. Patrick’s Church was planning its Summerfest for this weekend on Father Flohe Field, which was covered with trees and building debris Monday afternoon. The field has been cleared by an army of volunteers and Summerfest will go on; St. Pat’s has pledged 25% of the proceeds to help the damaged churches.”