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Posted on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 9:52 a.m.

Volunteers coalesce to help Dexter community recover from tornado

By Lizzy Alfs

(See full coverage of the Dexter tornado here.)

(How to donate to Dexter tornado relief efforts)

(This story has been updated several times with more information.)

Volunteers are coalescing this morning to help the Dexter community recover from a tornado that devastated dozens of homes and several businesses Thursday.

Several dozen people are volunteering at the Red Cross' official shelter for victims at Mill Creek Middle School at 7305 Dexter Ann Arbor Road.

"We're doers," said one Red Cross volunteer. "I was not going to sit and wring my hands. We wanted to get out here and help as soon as possible."

Six people stayed at a shelter organized by the Salvation Army in Ann Arbor.

Most people affected by the storm have taken refuge with friends and family, volunteers said.

Jenni Hawes, the disaster public affairs coordinator with the Washtenaw-Lenawee County chapter of the Red Cross, said she anticipates additional storm victims using the shelters in the coming days.


Volunteer Brandon Otto, a 16-year-old Dexter resident, uses a chainsaw to clear downed branches last night after a tornado touched down.

Nathan Bomey |

Sara Simmerman and Margee Faber, who work for the food and nutrition department for Dexter schools, came out to the school this morning to offer assistance and check on the school's coolers since some of the locations lost power last night.

Simmerman, who lives in Milford, and Faber, who lives in Brighton, called the community support in Dexter in the aftermath of the storm "incredible."

"Everybody takes care of everybody here," Faber said. "It's a nice place to live."

The Busch's store in Dexter is giving away free gallons and cases of purified water to people and is accepting refrigerated and frozen food since so many have lost power.

Marla Booth, vice president of marketing for Busch's, said the store is keeping track of food by wrapping it up and putting residents' contact info on it. The store stayed open all night last night.

Busch's is launching a fundraiser across its 15 southeast Michigan stores, where people can round the change from their purchases up to donate to the Dexter disaster relief effort. The store itself sustained some damage to its roof.

Busch's is hosting a free community lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The store plans to stay open for 24 hours.

"We've been a member of the Dexter community for many years, and it's a very close-knit community," Booth said. "Us helping was just the right thing to do."

Groups of people are coming to the lunch and thanking the Busch's manager for doing this for Dexter residents.

Tracie Sikora, who lives in a subdivision across from Busch's and did not have any damage to her house, spent time this morning contributing to the cleanup efforts.

"We've been walking up and down Dexter-Ann Arbor Road, cleaning debris as we go along," she said. "These are our friends and our neighbors. We want to help and do something. We don't want to just sit back."

Dexter resident Meg Potter and her three kids — Grant, Claire and Grace — came to the Mill Creek shelter on Friday morning to donate clothing after witnessing the tornado Thursday.

Potter said schoolteachers are reaching out to their students to make sure they're OK.

"Teachers have said if your kids need to come by to see friends and have hugs just to reassure each other — they're so supportive, it's amazing," Potter said. "They sent emails to everybody."

People have been filtering in and out of the Dexter shelter just to rest, drink beverages and talk to people.

"We have disaster action teams out in the field in both locations assessing damage and talking with the families to try to figure out what their needs are," Hawes said. "We're also providing clean-up kits and comfort kits and support. And these assessments that we're doing are going to be giving us an idea as to a projection of shelter stays and how long it will be in effect and what type of services to provide the families."

There have been many instances of residents helping other residents on a moment's notice. Several people were using chain saws just hours after the storm to start clearing downed tree branches.

Hawes said the best move for people who want to help is to make a financial contribution to the Red Cross' disaster relief operations by calling (734) 971-5300 or visiting

"I would say definitely a big question we're getting is how to help," Hawes said.

Anyone with a pet who was affected by the storm and needs assistance must call the Huron Valley Human Society at (734) 662-5585. Pets cannot stay at the shelters.

The Red Cross is not accepting donations of food or clothing at its shelters.

The Washtenaw County chapter of the United Way is accepting donated items at its office at 2305 Platt Road, Ann Arbor 48104, and the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce office at 3074 Baker Road. To volunteer your time, email's Nathan Bomey contributed to this report.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Bravo to Busch's!! Thank you, thank you for the kindness you are showing to everyone affected!! Also, I live on the west side of town near the Wylie/Island Lake Rd. intersection. That intersection was clogged with traffic at times yesterday because of trying to maintain resident's safety and security (i.e., checking ID's, etc.). I don't think it's gawkers as much as just people who live on this side of town trying to go about their daily business. Dex-Pinckney Rd. is the main feeder road into town for a LOT of people. The intersection was packed at "rush hour" time last night, but not much one can do about it except use patience.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

Update from WCSO nixle... At this time, the situation is manageable and is being handled by teams of professionals. While we appreciate the offer of volunteers, at this time they are not being allowed into the area due to safety and security concerns. As we assess the situation and determine what resources are necessary we will be reaching out to organizations and volunteers. Dumpsters are being delivered to the impacted areas. If you are trying to clean up your property on your own, please haul all debris to the curb, but do not place it in the street. Department of Public Works crews will be loading the debris into dumpsters.

John Hritz

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.

"The Busch's store in Dexter is [..] accepting refrigerated and frozen food since so many have lost power" This is one of the most creative and kind things I've seen in print for awhile. Kudos to the store manager for this thoughtful solution!

Top Cat

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

Just my opinion but I was in Dexter this morning to loan my friend a chainsaw. There were too many people driving around and gawking and clogging up the roads. It just seemed like professional tree people, those involved in removing the damaged trees and DTE needed more space to get their work done. For now, I would just suggest that unless you have something specific to do, best to stay away.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

@TopCat. Thanks for that. There are still WAY too many people driving around town. Law enforcement has cordoned off the most damaged areas. There is nothing to see.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

I agree. My neighborhood was a zoo! Unbelievable traffic. It is also disturbing and morbid for people to drive in to Dexter just to view other people's tragedies.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

I agree. But people have been out all day and night seeking comfort and fellowship with friends. Understand. A lot of us have only our computers with which to communicate. People were out all last night trying to find out about friends and relatives. I still have no idea how a lot of my friens fared.

John Hritz

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

During the recent tornado in Marysville, IN, the sheriff's office was controlling access at the freeway off-ramp and had a curfew in place. Even with that they had (limited) problems with looting. If you feel like doing something pray, donate cash to the Red Cross fund setup and do a quick inventory of the state of readiness of your home. I'm sure others have productive suggestions.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

If people want to help out with their hands, where should they go? Where is the volunteer's staging? Thanks!