Roofless apartment building, snapped trees, power outage mark storm’s hard-hit areas


GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Jarrod Schaffer isn’t sure whose sofa is sitting in his front yard.

It wasn’t there early Wednesday, but neither were the downed trees and chunks of roof scattered Thursday around his neighborhood of Belknap Lookout.

“It’s surreal,” Schaffer said. “You just can’t imagine it when you’re looking at your neighborhood that something like this could happen.”

A line of severe thunderstorms Wednesday night, Sept. 12, brought strong winds, brief downpours and lightning to West Michigan. After residents awoke Thursday morning, those in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood and Ada found some of the most significant storm damage.

Tornado warnings were issued for parts of the region, and the National Weather Service continues to investigate whether a tornado touched down or a straight-line event occurred. The National Weather Service reported that much of the storm damage happened in Grand Rapids, Lowell and just east of Lake Odessa.

No injuries have been reported.

While downed branches and some trees littered the city, Schaffer’s neighborhood of Belknap Lookout was hit particularly hard.

Strong winds stripped an apartment building of its roof and hurled the debris at a house across the way. Some of the wood framing struck the top floor of the home, collapsing the roof.

A woman who lived in the home said she was in that room moments before the debris crashed through.

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Jim Sneller, who lives next door to the roofless building at 505 Fairview Ave. NE, was watching the patio furniture cushions whip more and more furiously in the wind as the worst of the storm descended.

Save the twisted railing on his deck, his apartment was spared damage. It wasn’t until he went outside that he saw the extent of destruction.

“I could kind of hear some cracking and snapping noises — nothing really loud — then I came outside here and noticed the apartment roof next door was blown right off, then I knew it was major damage,” Sneller said. “It’s devastation to a lot of these houses, especially the apartment.”

Angel Gonzalez, another Fairview Avenue resident, left his home after hearing a girl screaming outside. The girl was saying her mother was trapped. Grand Rapids firefighters helped the girl, and the mother is alright, Gonzalez said.

Like Sneller, it wasn’t until going outside that Gonzalez realized what had happened to the neighborhood.

“I’ve been here for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gonzalez said. “Down at the end (at the apartment building), the damage there is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

Throughout Thursday morning a number of people visited the 500 block of Fairview Avenue NE.

Landlords documented damage for insurance purposes. Gawkers awed and snapped photos. Neighbors brought coffee to a woman whose home was grazed by a downed tree. Residents of the damaged apartment building huddled in the parking lot outside waiting to go in.

By late morning, the sound of chainsaws began.

Schaffer, the man with a sofa in his front yard, isn’t sure what he’ll do next. His home is without running water and electricity. His phone is dead. He can’t move his truck because there’s a piece of roof pinned under it.

“I was told from Consumers online that it could take up to Sunday to even get power,” he said. “If that’s the case, I don’t know where I’m going.”

Red Cross workers were out in Belknap Lookout talking with displaced residents to gauge if a temporary shelter was needed.

Ada, a city just east of Grand Rapids, also sustained much damage from the storm’s strong winds. Many large trees were snapped on Kirt Martin’s yard in Ada.

“It was really calm and really still with zero wind, and then all of a sudden it got windy and we ran into the basement,” Martin said. “We felt the air suck through the vents in the house, and it just started to get intense at that point.”

Between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. Thursday, Grand Rapids firefighters responded to 160 alarms. Over 100 power lines are down, with traffic lights out at some intersections.

Nearly 19,000 Consumers Energy customers in Kent County, the hardest hit in Michigan by the storm, remain without power.

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