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Storms pass through St. Joseph County with widespread damage State of emergency declared by governor; storm assessment ongoing

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

COLON — Strong storms that were possibly tornadic in nature passed through St. Joseph County Tuesday night.
The storms caused widespread damage to businesses and homes in the central and northeast parts of the county, particularly in Nottawa Township, Colon Township and Leonidas Township. States of emergency were declared for the county locally by both St. Joseph County Commission chair Ken Malone and statewide by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“My heart goes out to all those impacted by tonight’s severe weather in southwest Michigan,” Whitmer said in a release. “State and local emergency teams are on the ground and working together to assist Michiganders.”
Some of the damage reported included several damaged homes in the Driftwood Drive neighborhood north of Colon and other houses in the Colon area, extensive tree damage along Farrand Road just south of that area and in other parts of the county, damaged silos and flipped irrigation systems on some farms, as well as a leveled pole barn owned by Nottawa Gas next door to its store in Centreville, debris of which flew over more than a quarter-mile radius.
Power outages were also reported in the Centreville and Colon areas, which continued into Wednesday. Consumer’s Energy, which handles electricity for the area, said they are continuing to work to restore power to those affected. Around 2,400 customers as of Wednesday afternoon were affected.
St. Joseph County Emergency Manager Erin Goff said Tuesday night her department believes there was tornadic activity that took place during the storm, acknowledging multiple photos and videos that appear to show tornadoes touching down in areas of the county, but that the National Weather Service will determine that for certain in the next couple of days.
Patrick Hawkins, a resident of Driftwood Drive who sheltered in the basement of his home along with his granddaughter and his granddaughter’s mother when the storm hit north of Colon, said the storm was one of the strongest he’s ever been witness to.
“Everybody’s ears started popping, and it sounded like a little bit of gravel was hitting the hardwood floors up above, couldn’t tell what it was. Then a tree came down, hit the house, and it shattered – we have big A-frame windows, shattered those, blew the furniture up against the wall. So, we’re down there and we’re hearing all this directly over our heads,” Hawkins said, adding that he houses on the road were, in his words, “devastated.”
“It was so terrifying. … As soon as you think it was over, you hear something else. It was crazy,” Hawkins said.
St. Joseph County Undersheriff Jason Bingaman said as of just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, first responders and other cleanup crews were at the point where they checked most of the damage, but said there was a broader storm assessment on Wednesday morning.
“We’ll start doing a damage assessment and try to figure out how much damage we have, how severe is it,” Bingaman said. “We had our drones up in the air in the Centreville area [Tuesday] flying around, so we can take a look at the footage to see what they see from that view. It’s going to be a process. … We’ll dig into how much damage, what type of infrastructure it’s going to affect.”
Bingaman reported there were a couple of non-life-threatening injuries associated with the storm: One person with a laceration to their face while inside a structure when it collapsed, and another person with an injury to their extremities. Bingaman gave praise to the first responders who came out to help those who had damage and injuries.
“Our police and our fire and our EMS response has been top-notch, just making sure everybody’s being treated the way they need to be treated and getting taken care of any injuries or issues they might have,” Bingaman said.
For those who have been displaced from their homes in Colon, Bingaman said they’ve been encouraged to stay with family or friends for the time being, but for those that do need it, the Colon Fire Department has opened up their department for those who were displaced due to the storm.
Moving forward, Goff said utility providers, public works personnel, law enforcement, fire and EMS will continue cleanup, safety, and handle preliminary damage assessments, which she said will take some time to get accomplished.
“It’s going to be a lot of cleanup and a lot of patience and a lot of working together,” Goff said. “It’s going to be a lot about neighbors coming together and people in the community coming together.”
Local residents affected by the severe weather are encouraged to report their own damage as well by going to Goff also asked residents to avoid sightseeing in places where work is being performed and to be careful if you need to travel in areas where crews are working to clean up the area.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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