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Storms slam Grand Rapids, thousands without power

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
A large section of roof lifted off an apartment building on Fairview Ave. in Grand Rapids, and landed across the street in this yard.

Thousands of people still don’t have power in West Michigan after severe thunderstorms – and possible tornadoes – passed through the area Wednesday night.

Consumers Energy reported more than 20,000 customers were without power in the wake of the storm.

The hardest hit area was in the Belknap Lookout neighborhood, on a hill near downtown. There, a large section of roof blew off an apartment building on Fairview Ave. Sections of the roof were tossed across the street. One large piece blew to the end of another parking lot, hundreds of yards away.

Brandon Flood lives in the basement unit of the building that lost its roof. He says his apartment wasn’t damaged in the storm.

“In our unit, yeah, it’s untouched,” Flood says. “Those top units are just destroyed.”

Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
A second roof collapse and a crumpled carport along Fairview Ave. in Grand Rapids, following Wednesday's storm.

Pieces of the roof also hit Ellie VanDuren’s apartment, across the street and two houses down.

“I’m not even the first house across the street,” VanDuren said. “And there’s roof insulation everywhere, we’re covered. My whole balcony is full of debris from the roof. There’s like metal pieces, and roof tar. It’s just everywhere.”

No injuries have been reported from the storm.

The Kent County Emergency Manager says the storm generated “several brief radar-confirmed tornadoes." The National Weather Service has not officially confirmed that any tornadoes touched down, though it recorded wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour as the storm passed through Kent County.

The city of Grand Rapids says trees are down, and stoplights out across a number of neighborhoods.

“There’s trees all down over the sidewalk,” said Dalin Walker, who also lives in the Belknap Lookout neighborhood. “It looked like a hurricane came through. The whole block was destroyed.”

Thursday morning, crews were out assessing the damage across the city. Several roads were closed. The sound of chainsaws and sirens echoed across the city.

Consumers Energy estimated power would be restored to many customers no later than Friday. The cleanup from the storm’s damage is likely to take much longer.  

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service says there's a chance of heavy rain, and possible flooding, in the area from Thursday night into Friday. 

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.