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Posted on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Washtenaw emergency manager on Dexter tornado destruction: 'Never before in my county'

By Kellie Woodhouse


Debris lies on front lawns of houses on Noble Street after a tornado severely damaged the Huron Farms neighborhood in Dexter, Mich. on March 16, 2012.

Angela J. Cesere |

At 5:07 p.m. Thursday night the first warning siren echoed through Dexter.

Twenty-six minutes later a fierce tornado ripped through the town, leveling an estimated 10 houses and severely damaging another 100.

More than 200 residents are now displaced.

But despite the immense wreckage, no one was harmed.

"Nobody was hurt: That's a shocker ... after seeing the area affected and how much damage there was," said Marc Breckenridge, Washtenaw County's director of emergency management. "You never know if someone is going to be killed or not during a tornado, but you think people are going to be hurt."

Breckenridge said residents were able to escape harm largely because of the "leap time" between the siren warning and when the tornado first hit.

"It was phenomenal," he said. "That really saved lives."

In addition to the more than 100 homes affected in Dexter, several businesses and roads were also damaged by the tornado. The county hasn't assessed that damage yet because assessors are still determining the extent of damage in residential areas. Breckenridge said that although "a lot of rain came down," no significant flooding from Thursday's storm remained in Dexter Friday afternoon.


The home of Mechial White was completely leveled by a tornado that hit Huron Farms neighborhood in Dexter.

Angela J. Cesere |

Six people spent the night at emergency shelters. The county is encouraging all residents with severely damaged homes to seek shelter with family, friends or at the emergency shelter established at Mill Creek Middle School on Dexter Ann Arbor Road.

Breckenridge said that in his 20 years as Washtenaw County's emergency manager, he has never seen such a powerful tornado rip through the area.

"Never before in my county," he said.

"We've had several tornadoes that have touched down, but most of them have touched down in less populated areas," Breckenridge said. "(We've experienced) nothing on the scale of what happened last night."

Clean up is expected to last roughly two weeks, but Breckenridge says the "real challenge" is rebuilding the dwellings that are now uninhabitable. Already, however, Dexter homeowners have received offers of help form tree-trimming companies, construction companies and restaurants.

Power has been restored in most of Dexter Village, but much of the area between Dexter and Pinckney is without power due to a major electricity line between the two townships that needs to be entirely replaced. Roughly 20 DTE Energy crews are currently working on restoring that line, Breckenridge said.

While there’s been an outpouring of support to Dexter residents affected by Thursday’s tornado, with people from around the country already inquiring on how to donate, officials are still urging volunteers to stay out of the village.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton said access will be restricted to the village for the next day or two. He said emergency crews need room to operate and, while donations are encouraged, it’s best to leave the immediate recovery in the hands of professionals.

“For those of you who want to come to the area, we encourage you to stay out,” he said. “We appreciate it and there will be a time for volunteers to come in and provide assistance, but now is not that time.”

Like Breckenridge, Clayton said the early warning could be credited for the fact there were no injuries. There are two tornado-warning sirens in the village.

“We think that’s a testament to the emergency warning system, a testament to the public education system on how you respond to that and, quite frankly, a testament to the Dexter residents and how they responded to that,” he said.

The sheriff’s office is still in the middle of the assessment period and are not working with a definitive timetable, Clayton said. There was no monetary estimate on property damage as of Friday afternoon.

Clayton, state Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, village of Dexter president Shawn Keough and sheriff’s office spokesman Derrick Jackson all thanked first responders who came to the affected area. Ouimet said seven different fire departments responded to Dexter Thursday night.

There were no people utilizing the Mill Creek Middle School emergency shelter that had been set up after the storm as of Friday afternoon, but the shelter was remaining open, Clayton said.

There were some people taking refuge in the Salvation Army shelter in Ann Arbor following flooding in the city Thursday. However, the rest of the county seemed to escape major damage throughout the storm, Clayton said.

A significant amount of Dexter residents are still without power and DTE Energy crews are currently still on scene working. Jackson said he’s been told power might be back to all customers by the end of Friday.

There was a lot of damage along Dexter Pinckney Road, which is still closed off due to downed power lines, according to Jackson.

Keough said the village is working with nearby townships, the sheriff’s office and the state to get the affected neighborhoods — especially the hard-hit Huron Farms subdivision — cleaned up and have some sort of normalcy restored.

“The storm came through the village and hit the areas around Huron Street, Second Street and then Huron Farms,” Keough said.

The water and sewage systems in the village are not damaged, but some are working on back up power systems, he said.

The village will be disseminating information as much as possible through Facebook and whatever other means are available, Keough said.

It’s unclear if Dexter Community Schools will hold classes on Monday, Clayton said.

Although some people were milling about looking for scrap metal, Jackson and Clayton said there has been no influx of looters or opportunists looking to make some money off the destruction.

Gov. Rick Snyder walked through Huron Farms Friday afternoon, Ouimet said.

Ouimet said he’s been struck by the amount of compassion neighbors are showing for each other and the spirit of the people of Dexter as they’ve responded to the storm.

“On something like this, it does do your heart good to see people pulling together,” he said.

“In walking the subdivisions and talking to the constituents, (I’ve noticed) No. 1 how grateful they are to have made it through and No. 2 how good the response has been on their behalf,” he added. “They’ve seen firsthand now what it means.”

The Red Cross is still in the process of doing an assessment to see what is needed in the village, Clayton said. For Washtenaw County residents looking to donate, Clayton said to dial 211 to reach the United Way to donate all goods and services and to call The Red Cross at 734-971-5300 for all financial donations.

Crime reporter Kyle Feldscher contributed to this report.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 12:24 a.m.

There should be zero people in shelters. Go to a hotel and call your insurance company people!! People around here are wonderful but confused about how insurance works. Nobody should need shelters, free food or free hotels unless you're trying to do their insurance company a favor. ...of course not everything is covered - the victims of the tornado did not live free before and will not live free now - but major expenses should be covered.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

The building codes worked perfectly. Just like an earthquake, if your house gets hit by a tornado, you cannot expect minor damage but the codes are written to try to keep you alive if you make it to the basement (under the stairs is the best spot). The three little pigs fable is not an accurate portrayal of the realities of home construction, building codes or the physics of a tornado strike. If an F2 or 3 hits your house, it's gonna be messed up regardless of what it's built of, how much you paid or when it was built - get over it.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

Builders build houses the way they're told to be that brick,cement block,wood,steel everybody wants it done cheap and fast thus wood is the way to go or so it's thought until a disaster like this occurs. It's sort of like a tornado hitting a trailer park.mass destruction results because tin houses don't stand up very well in heavy wind. It's never pleasant Mr. Manager whether it happens in your county or some other one and it doesn't matter whether it's the first or 50th time.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 4:44 a.m.

Breckenridge should have credited the Amateur Radio operators who test the sirens and make sure they work.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

We live fewer than five miles from where the tornado touched down and never heard a warning siren. This is a public safety issue that must be addressed to ensure everyone's safety. Thank goodness no one was hurt as the devastation was incredible.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 1:48 a.m. sent out text messages to those registered with them at 5:42pm that said a tornado was spotted. It came out after the sirens started going off though.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 4:21 p.m.

The warning came out 26 minutes before anything happened. Get a weather radio or watch TV. It was everywhere. Do not alway rely on sirens. They can not always be heard everywhere.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

We live less than one mile from there and didn't hear it either.

Bob Krzewinski

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

I highly recommend everyone add one additional layer of severe storm protection to their lives. Get a weather radio with an alert function. If a tornado warning/watch is sent out, these radios have an alert function that will get your attention, or waken you if asleep.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

All the people in Huron farms and probably most of the other homes in Dexter have basements. Had the tornado hit slab built homes and trailers there would not have been such a injury/death free outcome.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

If anyone is still at the shelter and needs a place to stay, they are welcome to stay with us. Thanks for all you do,


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

@ferd There were 6 families at the shelter last time I checked. Since then, Ann Arbor hotels have been welcoming of cost. Greatly appreciated.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

@Madonna's hair Absolutely! Come on over. We'll barbecue! LOL. ;P


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

I don't think there ever was anyone at the shelter.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

My house is fine, can I still stay with you?

Chase Ingersoll

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 1:16 a.m.

This should significantly "bump" the housing market in Dexter and the vicinity. With all of the foreclosures on the market, it should cost significantly less to buy a similar home, than to re-build. Aside from the dog that was killed, this is no tragedy, but rather a micro-economic boon, at least for that area. Chase Ingersoll


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:38 a.m.

Are you kidding me? Really?! There are families in Dexter who have lost everything. I am shocked and appalled by your callousness.

Mark Hergott

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:30 a.m.

I honestly don't think people will feel quite the same way for a while, Chase.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:27 a.m.

I'm very shocked by how poorly these houses were constructed. Trusses with 24" centers, no tar paper under shingles, particle board instead of plywood, etc. Siding stapled on without underlayment. You can tell by the remaining elements that they were assembled in haste, without regard for building codes (at least those in my township). Looks like they used wire staples instead of toe-nail driven spikes to hold the roof trusses onto the walls. When these houses flew apart, the pieces took out portions of the neighboring homes. The videos show a few clusters of houses that did pretty well and they are not of the chicken coop style. I'll bet they are a product of a different builder. Someone should see if these rapid framed houses got individually inspected when built, or was it a cluster spec buid. I'd contact Holmes on Homes for his opinion about this. Its a horrible site to see your home in pieces. Very lucky that people were not killed. The terror will turn to anger when they realized how weak these houses are, made from glued sawdust with the roof essentally held on by gravity.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

That was my first thought as well once i had a chance to examine the wrecks. Someone cut corners.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:45 p.m.

Yeah, they are built entirely out of wood as if this were the 18th Century!


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:41 a.m.

I agree. Not blaming the victims her, but the developers for their shoddy construction. These were houses made of twigs, that families have invested their lives in. Now they are paying the price. I suggest they call a good attorney.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:40 a.m.

While you make an admiral point, and who doesn't love Mike Holmes, I doubt a better build home would have survived any better. These homes were in the direct path of the Tornado. Bad location is at fault here, not construction. Not much can stand up to 130 + mph winds.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Do not question what the Lord has rendered.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

This resembles a trailerpark... collapsed like one too.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

At this time, this comment has no place in the discussion and has an offensive connotation. People, largely young families, are simply picking up the pieces. Frankly, your comment blames the victim for purchasing in this neighborhood. So that you are aware, it was largely once a gravel pit without trees, is across from the schools and close to downtown, with yards bigger than the homes built in the 1950s in many places in the county. I'm not sure you've ever been here and are judging based on photographs showing the condos that are nearby. While all of these are subdivision homes that may not be built as sturdy as some of another generation, the fact of the situation is that an F3 tornado didn't hit where older homes are--it hit this subdivision and these people. My house and many others are still standing, and your comment does nothing to boost morale for those of us who chose to live here.

Wolf's Bane

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

My point, darling is that the developer constructed homes that were of poor quality, eliminated all of the 2nd generation stands of trees (which farmers have used for centuries as a means to dissipate winds), and maximized the number of homes by putting them close together. It is a miracle that no one was injured! Also, look at the topography, without trees to break up the winds, this area literally resembles a trailer park in its layout.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 11:27 p.m.

No, it resembles a neighborhood and town hit by a strong slow moving tornado. What exactly is your point?


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.

"Leap" time Is it the time needed to leap into the basement? Or is it the lead time?

Rob MI

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

Tasteless jokes aside, the proper term is, in fact, "lead time" and not "leap time"


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

You think this is a joke?! Was YOUR house leveled?! Show some empathy for those people who lost their homes, or whose homes were badly damaged.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

No fatalities with this devastating storm just proves Breckenridge and WC Emergency Management do great great work! Kudos to them for the timely warning and expert follow-through!


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Good job to all the SkyWarn storm spotters and Amature Radio Operators to that fed the info directly to the WC Emergency Management Directly. Great info and pics that came in directly from them. Good to have you guys around.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

Is cute the right tone here? Sheesh. I'm sorry for what all those affected are going through.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

It is all made of wood. The big bad tornado huffed and puffed and blew it all away. No metal to scrap here. If it was made of brick? A different story. I am looking at all the lumber and can tell these are pre fab houses. Never was made to stand to the winds. Been proven down in hurricane country. Good luck to the rebuild.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.

All kinds of houses can still be standing. Tornado damage is random so you cannot see a house that's fine and say it's because of how it was constructed. For decades, building codes have required that roof trusses anchored to the walls and walls to the foundations. That is helped keep entire houses from rising from their foundations or roofs flying away in large pieces. That was evident in Dexter. With few exceptions, tornadoes are much more destructive then hurricanes so while you can design to resist hurricane winds, it would not be economical to design for a tornado - especially how rare they are in Michigan. The folks in Dexter are unlikely to see another one the rest of their lives.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.

Remember the only house standing after that hurricane just south of Texas? It was built to last. Sorry to see the houses go, but from what I saw of houses built over 50 years? They still stood. It was the trees that nailed them. Stone and mortar. Solid foundations.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

Apparently you've never lived in tornado alley. I lived in Kansas for 2 years, where houses are built to stand up under tornadoes. I saw a beautiful street filled with beautiful brick homes LEVELED. This not the proper time to be clever, either.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.

Brick houses are clay brick on osb board on wood studs, genius. If a tornado with 136 mile winds hits a brick house, the windows go, then the roof and the rest of it. The brick may stand for a fraction of a minute longer than siding but it's going down. A house that could withstand such a tornado and the debris striking it could be built but it would be crazy expensive. Prayers to all those who lost their homes.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

If I remember correct, these homes were not prefab, they were stick built on site.


Fri, Mar 16, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Really bad timing for this response... have a little compasion