EF-2 tornado confirmed in Portage storm leaving only minor injuries: 'We got lucky'

The National Weather Service has confirmed that Portage was hit by an EF-2 tornado with a peak wind speed of 135 miles per hour Wednesday. The path of the tornado was 11 miles with a width of 300 yards. 

Less than 24 hours after severe weather tore through the Portage area, local officials addressed the aftermath earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Widespread destruction is evident from the tornado - but there were no fatalities or serious injuries. Portage Mayor Patricia Randall said that only eight people went to the hospital for minor injuries. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency for four counties in that region: Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Branch and Cass.

"We do have over 100 families that have been removed from their houses because the damage was so extensive," Randall said, adding that most power is expected to be restored by Thursday as cleanup continues.

About 20,000 are without power and there are roughly 200 broken power poles in the area, officials said.

According to the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office, about 176 homes in the Pavilion Estates mobile home park were damaged, and 15-17 were destroyed. Late Tuesday, he said 16-20 people were hurt, though the injuries do not appear to be serious.

Public Safety Director Brad Armold said the destruction was tragic, but the silver lining was emergency notifications worked.

"It is really hard to comprehend what you see out there," he said. "And then to put that up against the fact that we had not only no fatalities but little if any injuries at all. It's just mind-boggling. It makes you think that somebody was definitely looking out for us. Our warning systems worked perfectly."

There are still concerns over trees down and power lines down and public safety is working alongside Consumers Energy in the cleanup and restoration efforts.

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said that "We were very lucky last night" adding, that 44 years ago next week is the anniversary of a deadly tornado that killed five in Kalamazoo.

"Last night's event Well, I believe was even larger," he said. "Again, 44 years ago, we had a much tragic, a much more tragic event come through and caused five lives to go. Last night because our community is working hard together all the time, and because they were paying attention last night and hearing the alerts, lives were saved."

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Volunteer efforts for cleanup and aid were tabled earlier today due to the number of downed power lines which officials were still cataloging. Efforts will be underway shortly, starting tonight, the mayor said.

Randall said she was grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world, as well as the emergency responders - including every fire department in the county as well as Mattawan and Battle Creek.

Mary Lynn Foster of the Red Cross said that efforts are underway to help those in need.

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"What we're focusing on right now is immediate needs," she said. "We also had an opportunity to visit the community earlier today. That was hardest hit and you know it was there with the Governor as well. And I just want to reassure the community that the Red Cross is here."