Survivor: Several false sirens before 1980 Kalamazoo tornado

File footage of a the damage left behind by the May 13, 1980 tornado that hit downtown Kalamazoo.


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Gordon Miller was a young lawyer when an F3 tornado swept through downtown Kalamazoo on May 13, 1980. He said that in the days leading up to the tornado, there were so many false tornado sirens that people stopped taking them seriously.

“Today you can have a WOOD TV weather app on your phone that will alert you to these types of problems,” Miller said.

Miller said he was talking to a man on the street just before the tornado hit downtown. The man said he was going to write a letter to the editor to complain about the tornado warnings.

“And so I was just being flip with him and said to him something like, ‘Well, I might sign that, too,'” Miller said.

Miller never had a chance to sign that letter.

“I knew the sirens were going off and I went up to the fourth floor,” he recalled. “Not a smart thing to do.”

Little did Miller know he was in a building full of glass windows that was sitting directly in the path of the tornado.

“Somebody saw the tornado coming and we all hustled down the stairs,” he said.

He was too late. The tornado hit the building when Miller got to the first floor. He managed to make it into the basement where he waited without power or phone service for more than an hour.

“A few people that had kids in child care around here ran out the door despite the fact that there was glass falling,” Miller remembered.

Five people were killed in the tornado and nearly 80 were injured.

Miller said remembering the tornado nearly 37 years later affects him more than actually living through it.

“These people are all family to somebody, and that’s the hard part of sorting through this again, is the human carnage that came out of the tornado,” Miller said. “If the sirens go off today, I think that the streets will be cleared and people will be in the basement in a way that they weren’t in 1980.”

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