Tornado ‘tossed around’ 17 semis, toppled billboards, sheared off treetops along I-96


Williamston, MI — A tornado that touched down in eastern Ingham County on Thursday night wreaked havoc along a miles-long stretch of Interstate 96.

It overturned 17 semis and dozens of cars, downed wires, turned trees into kindling.

“Most of the billboards are gone. Almost all the street signs are gone. You can see, when you’re able to travel it probably later today, that most of the treetops have been sheared off,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth at a Friday afternoon press conference.

“I personally spoke to one semi driver last night whose semi rolled several times down the embankment. He related to me to that as the storm approached, he pulled over, stopped, literally felt the cab of the semi compress and his entire semi went airborne with a 62,000-pound payload,” he said.

A 40-year-old man from Grand Rapids was found dead in his car amid the destruction, which stretched from Williamston to Webberville, Wriggelsworth said. He did not release the man’s name.

Michael Yanz, director and fire chief of the Northeast Ingham Emergency Services Authority, said, at one point, his crews were working to extract the occupants of four vehicles simultaneously. He said the semis were “tossed around” more than they were overturned.

Eastbound I-96 has reopened, but the westbound lanes were still closed as of Friday afternoon. Even with the work of “multiple towing services including multiple heavy-duty wreckers from all over the state,” Wriggelsworth said those lanes would remain closed for the foreseeable future.

At some point, the eastbound lanes will have to be closed again to allow DTE crews to repair downed power lines, he said.

That stretch of highway is where PJ Daly started his day.

The owner of PJ’s Towing, he and a crew had been out on I-96 since 4:30 a.m., working to untopple semitrailer – or what was left of them – scattered across both sides of the freeway.

He pointed to the shredded body of a semitruck being pulled apart by his workers. For some of the trucks, they had to be unloaded before they could be hauled away, he said.

His crew was in the process of unloading a semitrailer driven by Barry Smith, 34, of Novi, who was forced to smash out his front window and get to safety after his rig overturned in the storm. He sustained multiple injuries in the process including a deep cut to his left arm and right leg.

“We’ve had other storm work before, other pileups … but we haven’t had a tornado before,” Daly said. “But at least it’s not raining, the weather’s decent. We’re just trying to take care of our guys and keep everybody safe.”

Meteorologists confirmed Friday multiple tornadoes had touched down in parts of Kent County, Ingham County and Livingston County late Thursday evening as part of a destructive storm cell that ripped through Michigan.

Read more at MLive:

‘I thought I was going to die’: Michigan trucker escapes from rolled semi during severe storms

‘All of our trees just hit the ground,’ couple says of riding out suspected tornado

5 dead, several injured, widespread damage after storms tear across Michigan

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