Michigan farms demolished by tornado: ‘There wasn’t enough time to get to the basement’


WILLIAMSTON, MI When fierce storms rocked Ingham County late Thursday night, Tim Dietz and his wife had friends visiting.

The group took notice of a thunderstorm warning, pinged to their phones, and began filling water jugs on the off chance they’d lose power. Where their farm is located, no electricity meant no running water. No running water meant no flushable toilets.

In the middle of this task, Dietz then got another alert: This time for a tornado.

“Just as that happened, my ears popped and the glass behind me blew out,” he said. “I pretty much fell to the ground in the kitchen upstairs. There wasn’t enough time to get to the basement. Thankfully my wife, her friend, my daughter and her friend were in the hallway, which was a safe spot, as it turns out.”

Officials with the National Weather Service Friday confirmed multiple tornadoes touched down across Michigan late Thursday night, including the one that had all but demolished the Dietz’ farm in Ingham County. It wrought havoc as it cruised across the state, rolling semis across I-96 like dice near Williamston and turning trees into kindling just outside of Grand Rapids.

As of publication, five individuals have reportedly died due to the tornadoes and hundreds of thousands have been left without power.

When the group at Dietz’ farm eventually got their bearings, they stepped outside to find their garage completely ripped from the home and three barns holding “all of the equipment we use for farming ... wiped out,” Tim Dietz said.

One of those barns had been erected before the American Civil War, Dietz said, as his family had been farming the same land for nearly 190 years.

A bright spot among the destruction: Somehow, four horses owned by Dietz’ daughter had survived the ordeal despite standing out in the pasture the entire time.

“This is by far the worst we’ve ever had,” Dietz said, of the storm. “We’ve had wind that’s taken out branches occasionally, but nothing this extreme. ... We’re all OK, though, no one was hurt, and that’s the most important thing.”

Christie Showerman, owner and director of Northfolk Farms & Outback in Webberville, said her property sustained some damage in the tornado but not enough to impact their business.

Their farm, where they offer horseback riding lessons and host weddings, was able to be cleaned up before noon.

She was out early with her husband Friday to help clean up Showerman Farms, a property owned by her in-laws. Though no one in the family was hurt by the tornado, a milk parlor on the premises was completely razed.

Another barn, used for storing tractors, had its roof ripped completely off; pieces of it could found wrapped around nearby powerlines and trees, with some even tossed into crops across the street.

Gary Showerman, the family patriarch, was cleaning up inside one of the more intact buildings on the property when he spoke to MLive on Friday. He said the entire storm felt like “it only lasted about five minutes.”

“There wasn’t no wind, then all the sudden there was and it was over ... It was over before I even knew it had happened,” he said.

Showerman wasn’t aware of the damage to his farm property until Friday, as he and his wife weathered the tornado at their home just up the road. That property, Showerman added, survived relatively unscathed.

More from MLive

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