‘Debris flying’ as tornado tears across blueberry farm

One of as many as four tornadoes swept through Bangor area Saturday

Bangor storm damage
Storm damage at True Blue Blueberry Farms in the Bangor area. (Aug. 20, 2016)


BANGOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Not far from where one tornado started its long trek through West Michigan Saturday, Shelley Hartmann said she could see it coming.

“When I saw that thing circling around like that- I have watched ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and I know what a twister looks like,” Hartmann said.

Within 30 seconds, it was gone — after ripping apart a section of the large cold-storage building at True Blue Farms, a blueberry farm north of Bangor. It carried part of the roof a quarter mile away, said Hartmann, who owns the farm with her husband.

She said she heard the weather alert on her phone then saw the storm twisting through the trees.

“It was amazing. You could see the debris flying around, you could see tree parts, paper and just debris,” she said.

They quickly warned 65 farm workers to take shelter. No one was hurt.

The storm tossed plastic blueberry carriers, called lugs, into car windshields, damaging dozens of vehicles. It toppled a large Ryder truck.

Worst of all, though, was the damage to the cold-storage building, which holds most of the late-season crop. Hartmann said she hopes they’ll be able to save the berries.

“We’re hoping for the best here,” she said.

What amazed her was what happened after the storm left. Neighbors, friends, workers and farmers — dozens of them — showed up to help clean.

“Look around at all these people,” she said. “I mean, people just started showing up, saying, ‘What can we do?'”

Among them was Kate Otto and her husband from a nearby blueberry farm.

“It’s just our group of growers. We’re all very close and we’ve always helped each other out,” Otto said.

From the blueberry farm, the tornado headed northeast, seeming to drop onto the Columbia Township Hall. It tore off a chunk of the hall and bent a large radio antenna over the roof.

Back in Bangor, near where it started, crews spend Saturday afternoon and evening cleaning up, cutting up downed trees and clearing power lines. The storm snapped city street lights and tore off part of the police department’s roof.

>>Photos of the storm damage

It also buried Justine Hoggard’s home with trees and power lines. She said she and her children were driving home when they took cover in a gas station.

They later found they couldn’t get into their home.

“It took out my fence, took out the swingset, took out my garden, took out part of my garden shed,” Hoggard said. “It’s scary. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where we’re staying.”

There is a shelter open at the First Congregational Church at 54128 County Road 388 in Grand Junction for anyone displaced by the storm.

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