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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

State team is helping with cleanup and damage assessment after tornadoes in Michigan

A mobile park home at Pavilion Estates near Kalamazoo, Mich. is destroyed on the morning of Wednesday, May 8, 2024 after a tornado had swept through the night before.
Joey Cappelletti
A tornado swept through a mobile park home at Pavilion Estates near Kalamazoo on May 7, leaving this scene the following morning. Branch, Cass, Kalamazoo, and Saint Joseph counties are under a state of emergency declared by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

After tornadoes and other severe weather hit parts of Southwest Michigan on Tuesday, residents are now going through the long, complicated process of cleanup and recovery.

Four Michigan counties — Branch, Cass, Kalamazoo, and Saint Joseph — are under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division is part of the state’s response.

Lauren Thompson-Phillips is a public information officer for the division and joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about the recovery efforts.

Doug Tribou: Let’s start with an update on where things stand now. It’s been a couple of days since the storms hit. Some areas saw some terrible destruction, especially in the area of Portage. What is the situation like now?

Lauren Thompson-Phillips: Well, currently the recovery efforts are definitely facing the cleanup stage. There's a lot of debris across the counties. That will be the next step — debris removal. And also at the same time, we're in the stage of damage assessment.

The local jurisdictions will go out and survey the damage, and we have tools to collect the damage, and then the state will go out and put our eyes on it as well. And then that will kind of be the deciding factor of, if this does escalate to what would be a request for a presidential [disaster] declaration.

We're also focused on supporting those affected. The Red Cross has shelter set up for those who need it. We're supplying water where it's needed. We have helped facilitate getting some power charging stations. So it's really just a support effort, making sure that those affected have what they need right now.

"Another important lesson that comes out of any disaster is it's really important for people to have insurance. And we're hoping in this disaster that that is overall largely the case."
Lauren Thompson-Phillips, Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division public information officer

DT: Well, you mentioned the possibility of federal intervention. We've got the state of emergency from the state of Michigan in place. What is the likelihood that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, could get involved? And what would the process look like to request that support?

LTP: At this point, I can't speak to the likelihood that FEMA could get involved. But I can shed some light on the process.

So, once the damage is assessed by the locals, and the state confirms that damage, then we're going to look at a big picture of — it's a big formula and a big equation — whether or not we believe it would escalate to that next step, which then would be: do we request a presidential declaration? And then based on that decision would be whether or not FEMA would come to town. We are already in communication with FEMA. And when we do go out and do damage assessments, there's a chance that some members of the FEMA team will be with us as well.

So, as far as a timeline or likelihood, it's just too early to say at this point.

I think a big misunderstanding in some cases, too, is that FEMA comes in and fixes everything, and that's really not the case. You know, FEMA comes in and it's a supplemental to help people get back on their feet. And FEMA ... only helps with damage that [is not covered by] insurance. And even that damage that's not insured, it's not a full rebuild [by FEMA]. So another important lesson that comes out of any disaster is it's really important for people to have insurance. And we're hoping in this disaster that that is overall largely the case.

DT: I want to circle back to some of the people who have been displaced, forced to evacuate, because their homes were either destroyed or badly damaged. You touched on some of what's being done. What's in store for those people who can't go home right now in the coming days and weeks?

LTP: You know, it's a process. Fortunately, my understanding at this point is, the majority of people who are displaced are staying with friends or relatives. They've been able to find places to stay. We have had a little more than 20 people in a Red Cross shelter for a few nights. And so right now, we're focused on making sure they have everything they need.

DT: Do you have any advice for residents who need help or more information about the resources that are available to them?

LTP: Sure. So the main thing that we're encouraging residents to do is to call 211. We also do have a self-reporting tool. It's a damage-assessment tool. Residents who do have damage, if they go in and report the damage, that helps direct where the locals and the state go to actually see the damage.

And the more people that do that is actually the better for us in the long run. Because if it is going to rise to a fact of a presidential declaration, the more damage we know about collectively, the better.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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