Dexter area tornado damage totals more than $9.1 million
The March 15 EF-3 tornado that struck the Dexter area caused more than $9 million in damages - an amount that “will probably go higher.”
That assessment came from Marc Breckenridge, director of emergency services for Washtenaw County, who provided an updated overview of the tornado damage to the Dexter area Thursday morning to a room full of Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce members.
Breckenridge said 13 homes were destroyed, 23 sustained major damage and another 65 sustained minor damage. In addition, three businesses were destroyed and two others were damaged.
The reason the damage totals will climb, he said, is that insurance companies aren’t required to submit damage totals.
Meanwhile, about $1.1 million was spent by local governments and government agencies for things like debris removal and public assistance.
But, despite his application for emergency funding, Breckenridge said “the state declined to reimburse” the agencies that performed the work. When asked if another tornado could hit Dexter, he said “Yes, it will happen again. Maybe in 200 years, maybe this year. It’s impossible to predict.”
He said tornadoes can happen any month of the year, in any state, noting that one hit recently in Hawaii, but there has to be a thunderstorm involved. On March 15, he said, thanks to the work of some of the 650 trained Skywarn spotters, the county’s Emergency Operations Center was able to warn residents and officials well before the impending tornado carved a Â½-mile path through areas in Dexter and Dexter Township.
“Severe winds cause more damage than any other natural disaster,” Breckenridge said, and there were winds of 140 mph associated with the recent tornado that was 800 yards wide.
Plus, he said, this area averages one tornado every four years. From 1996-2010, there were zero tornadoes, and then in 2011-2012, there were three - including the one in Dexter - in two years.
Breckenridge said he was able to sound the emergency warning sirens “across the northern tier townships,” and set in motion a plan that alerted first responders, area hospitals, schools and banks, of the possibility of a tornado. Subsequently, all sirens across the county were triggered for a second warning, he said.
“We had excellent lead time to warn people,” he said of the spring tornado.
He said near the affected areas, there are two outdoor sirens in Dexter Village, one each at nearby Portage Lake in Dexter Township and one at Thornton Farms in Lima Township.
But he also said people should understand that these outdoor emergency warning sirens are designed to alert people who are outside, they are set as loud as federal guidelines allow and they most likely won’t be heard indoors. The sirens have a limited range of 4 square miles. Currently, there are 39 outdoor emergency warning sirens, which cost about $20,000 each, plus a $500 yearly maintenance fee.
He said the sirens are “targeted for outdoor areas and in the most densely populated areas of the county.”
“Convective weather (which includes severe winds, lightning, tornadoes and hailstorms) is the county’s No. 1 hazard,” Breckenridge said, adding it’s so dangerous because there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
All the Emergency Operations Office can do is plan and respond to it. For more information, can be found here.