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At least 7 killed as high wind, heavy rain uproot trees, homes

July 3, 1997

DETROIT (AP) _ A string of storms thundered across the Midwest, uprooting trees, turning freeways into ponds and killing at least seven people. Among the dead were three children and two adults who had sought shelter in a gazebo that was blown into Lake St. Clair.

The gazebo was lifted from the water’s edge of Pier Park in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Farms. The Detroit News reported today that at least four of the five victims were related, including an infant girl and boys age 2 and 8. The fifth victim was not identified, the report said.

Eight people were rescued from the swirling water.

``It just got real dark, real windy, real loud, and pieces of trees and everything were just flying all over,″ said Jeff Gerow, a park security guard. ``I got hit in the face by a purse. It was so dark you could hardly see.″

The storms tore through Michigan, Indiana and Ohio on Wednesday, lifting houses off foundations and flooding roads. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer declared a state of emergency, and about 198,000 people were without power early this morning in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

More than 10 mobile homes were destroyed, 50 were damaged and a 37-year-old woman was killed when high wind and heavy rain pummeled a trailer park near Holly, about midway between Detroit and Flint, sheriff’s Capt. Barnett Jones said. One person was missing and several people reported minor injuries.

Jay Welch saw the funnel cloud approach the store he owns next to the pummeled mobile home parks.

``We saw a rain of leaves _ it looked so beautiful,″ he said. ``Then came the evil.″

``It looked like `The Wizard of Oz’ _ everything was flying in the air,″ said Danielle Dykes, whose trailer home was spared.

A 38-year-old woman from Mount Morris Township, near Flint, was killed by a falling tree.

``The damage is probably stretched across 8 miles, removing houses off foundations,″ said Ken Hardin, a county commissioner.

The National Weather Service received unconfirmed reports of at least 12 tornado touchdowns throughout Michigan, forecaster David Koehler said.

On the east side of Detroit, witnesses said what appeared to be a tornado lifted a house off its foundation and tossed it several feet into an alley.

Timothy Petty said he and another man helped a woman out of the entrance of what used to be her basement stairs.

``I was scared to death,″ Petty said. ``I’ve been in Detroit for 32 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.″

Detroit suburbs reported numerous buildings damaged. Water levels rose as high as car windshields along one section of Interstate 75. At Tiger Stadium, the storm blew large sections of tar paper from the left-field roof out onto the field less than an hour after the Tigers beat the New York Mets 9-7.

The storms hit northwestern Ohio in the late afternoon and moved southeast across the state, meteorologist Jim Lott said.

About 15 mobile homes near the Ohio River in southern Clermont County were destroyed. About 25 nearby homes were also damaged and one minor injury was reported.

In Dayton, high winds uprooted trees and knocked out traffic lights. Power outages also were reported. About 17,000 of the 50,000 Dayton Power and Light Co. customers who lost power remained without electricity this morning.

In Indiana, tornadoes touched down in several east-central counties although no injuries were reported.

Jeff Bryan saw a small tornado hit TRE Paper Co. in Anderson, Ind.

``It was the wildest thing I ever saw in my life,″ Bryan said. ``I saw the roof come off. I saw the poles snap. ... It was like you see on TV _ only louder.″