Lake county communities come together after last week’s severe storm

CHASE, BALDWIN — Life can change in a flash.

Some families in the Chase area, and south of Baldwin, had their homes and property extensively damaged when a severe storm with winds up to 80 miles per hour swept through the area Tuesday, Sept. 7, producing large hail and knocking down many trees. Many lost electricity and received costly structural damage, some lost vehicles, some lost their home.

The storm blew into the local area before 2 p.m. Many area residents witnessed very dark skies, and a tornado warning was issued. A tangle of strong winds, rain and hail, some the size of a tennis ball, sent people running for cover.

Kearns home gets tree through it

In the Chase area, several homes had trees crashing down on them, including the farm home of Alan and Cathy Kearns. A huge red oak crashed into their house, breaking through the ceiling, scattering debris, limbs and insulation everywhere in their family room, and destroying family vehicles parked outside.

Cathy and her husband Alan were both home. Alan was in another part of the house, but Cathy was on a couch in the family room talking on the phone with a good friend, Sandy Figger, from Baldwin, as the storm approached. Hail was hitting the Baldwin area, but nothing was happening in Chase yet, Cathy noted.

Soon after, Cathy looked out the window and noticed the sky was a funny color and the wind picked up. She decided she shouldn’t be on the phone when the lightning and thunder began. She got up and went to another room, noticing the hail looked like a blizzard as she looked out the window.

“We lost power and then ... boom. The house shook. Everything happened so suddenly, within five minutes. I came out of the other room and said, ‘Don’t tell me that’s the tree,’” Cathy said, mentioning it fell right where she was sitting on the couch talking to her friend on the phone moments before.

“This wasn’t the time to be frightened. I was more saddened than anything. I lost my tree. The huge red oak, probably 200 to 300 years old, was absolutely huge. The upper part is strong and healthy but there was some rot near the base,” Cathy explained.

“The roof can be fixed, which will be expensive. A tree can grow again, but it will take 20 to 30 years before it can grow shade.”

The tree also smashed the back of Cathy’s car, a Christmas gift from her husband a couple years back.

“You can replace a car, but not the thought of it, as a special gift,” she added.

An older truck her husband owned also was crushed by the tree.

“The tree blew out some insulation. It got wet from the rain and stuck to everything,” Cathy said. “It is a sticky nightmare. Dust rolled in the kitchen and everywhere when the tree crashed through the ceiling.”

Neighbors of the Kearns family also experienced damage.

“A neighbor, Therill Toman, walked down to see if we were okay, only for us to learn he also had a tree on his house — but he wanted to make sure we were alright,” Kearns said, touched by his kindness.

Many of her family members, children (who operate the tree company Sky Guy) and grandchildren helped clear the tree off the house, remove limbs, and clean inside.

Tiki Hut property in Chase badly damaged

On the east outskirts of Chase, along U.S. 10, the Tiki Hut produce business run by Paul Avery, and his mother Sharon’s home on the hill above the business, got hit with damage.

Sharon was outside when she saw what looked like a dark funnel cloud forming southwest of Chase. She rushed other family members to safety in the basement of the 145-year-old house, one of the oldest standing structures in Chase. Just as some of the family passed by a west window to get to the basement, it blew out, the frame and glass scattering, missing them by seconds. Then a loud crash was heard near the same area.

When the family came up from the basement, they noticed the very large maple on the west edge of the home crashed through the the northwest corner of the roof, large limbs sprawling over the east edge of the house, and other huge limbs on the ground, the edges just resting on the back of the car, causing no impact whatsoever, Sharon noted.

The very top of the tree snagged into a large maple to the north, softening the blow to the house, but the house shifted a couple inches to the east due to impact from the tree. A heavy lower limb destroyed a shed nearby, and the geodome greenhouse in the produce area was smashed by winds.

Beaming vehicle headlights stringed down U.S. 10 near the Tiki Hut, which was blocked by a fallen tree. A few men nearby got chainsaws and quickly cleared the tree so traffic could get through.

Shortly after the storm cleared, Sharon was overwhelmed by the kindness of neighbors, family and strangers. A person delivering wood to the home arrived just after the storm with the first load for the season, and quickly began sawing limbs with a chainsaw in his truck. Soon, the yard was filled with peo- ple who quickly went to work clearing the driveway, moving logs and brush.

Mike Wetherell, who works at Chase Auto down the hill from the Tiki Hut, also came with a chainsaw, and his kids even helped moved pieces of wood. He said it was great seeing the community come together.

Sharon and her family have been grateful for her community, and people in the area, like a church in Reed City, and some as far as Elk and Webber townships, who have been helping the family get back on their feet and the hole in the roof tarped up until it can be fixed. The house is uninsured.

“I was a little teary-eyed, not because of the tree through my roof, but because of all the wonderful people who immediately showed up to clear the many tree limbs down in the driveway,” Sharon said, adding she is grateful for the continual support from friends and family since the storm.

Damage in the Marlborough area, family loses home

Areas south of Baldwin, especially along the Pere Marquette River, as well as southeast of town in the old community of Marlborough, received a lot of damage.

“All of Marlborough got some damage with siding, roofs, windows and gutters pounded by hail and wind,” said community resident Patricia Cousineau, who had a contractor and insurance adjuster at her home after receiving extensive storm damage to her roof. Seven windows also blew out.

“It is unbelievable the damage that can be done in 5 minutes,”  Cousineau said.  “Family was here quickly on Tuesday and had my windows boarded and two of the neighbors’ done. I was so thankful for the help. They also got my yard raked — the whole thing was carpeted in pine twigs, leaves and hail.”

Cousineau hurried over to a neighbor’s home to make sure she was okay, as soon as the storm stopped. The neighbor’s bed was covered in glass. She helped her pick up the glass.

“Between her glass and mine in the house, I was picking up lots of glass,” she said, mentioning a family in the next block who got a tree on their house and had to move out.

Michelle Hyatt, who has two children, Dakoda (age 14) and Lexia (age 13) who both attend Baldwin School, lost her home when a large tree crashed through it. Michelle and her children were not home when the tree came down on the home, but her boyfriend Marlin Smith was there. He made it out of the home and saved the three dogs in the home.

Michelle’s  mother, Patti Hyatt, set up a gofundme page for the family, which can be found under: “Please help daughter, her boyfriend & her 2 kids, organized by Patti Hyatt. The family did not have renter’s insurance.

South of Baldwin hit

Baldwin Canoe Rental, south of Baldwin, reported on  its Facebook page there was a lot of damage.

“Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone that was affected by the storms today.

We have a lot of damage done to our buildings and all of our busses and trucks. Thankful the Lord kept us safe because everything else is replaceable,” the post stated.

Hail chipped at the siding, a large sign blew down and windows were busted out of the busses, as shown in photos on the post.

During the aftermath, cleanup crews went to work, getting roads unblocked and fallen trees cleaned up. Linemen were out in force repairing electric lines. It was during this time Great Lakes Energy sadly reported the death of lineman, Jesse Ricord, 38, of Marne, who lost his life Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 8, working south of Baldwin in the L-Lakes area. The cause of death is still being investigated.

Even in the midst of tragedy, the community is mustering up an inner strength by coming together. The Lake County

Clerks/Register of Deeds office is collecting funds at their office to help support Ricord’s wife Jane and six children in their time of loss. A Mass intention will be said in Ricord’s memory during Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church at 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 18.

Storm patterns

Readers may note, this most recent severe storm occurred on a Tuesday, as did the damaging storm on the evening of August 10, last month. The last major wind storm before that in Lake County  was Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. The tornados which occurred has stayed fresh on people’s minds through these recent bad storms.

The National Weather Service states the storm was consistent with straight-line winds estimated at and over 80 mph with damage reported in Idlewild, Chase and Reed City, although some folks still believe isolated tornadic rotation was additionally involved in some spots. Some near the town of Chase said they witnessed a funnel cloud form, and a woman in Reed City said her insurance adjuster con- firmed some tornadic activity.

Yet, regardless, the storm did not get the upper hand on the many who were impacted in one way or another — who are moving forward and helping others do the same.