‘It was like driving around a war zone’: Tornado destroys at least 12 homes in Gaylord

The E-Free Church is housing all in need, it is big and has power and wi-fi

The efforts to help Gaylord are well underway after a tornado injured 44, leaving one dead Friday (May 20). Rescue efforts were in full effect as ambulances were racing back and forth. The clean-up is underway as well as Local 4 saw a few MDOT trucks rolling into town as well. The humanitarian effort is on display as well as the E-Free Church has housed about 50 or so people for the night. It is expected that the church will see more in the coming hours.

GAYLORD, Mich. – The efforts to help Gaylord are well underway after a tornado injured 44, leaving one dead Friday (May 20).

Rescue efforts were in full effect as ambulances were racing back and forth. The clean-up is underway as well as Local 4 saw a few MDOT trucks rolling into town as well.

The humanitarian effort is on display as well as the E-Free Church has housed about 10 or so people for the night. It is expected that the church will see more in the coming hours.

Read: At least 1 killed, 44 injured when tornado touched down in Gaylord: Everything we know so far

In his 11 years in Gaylord, Pastor Scott Distler has seen storms before, including blizzards but not tornadoes, and that’s why when it hit Friday, he rushed to his mother’s house to get her and then surveyed the damage.

“I saw power poles snapped in half,” said Distler. “You basically had to navigate like a warzone. You had to navigate around things just to try to get to her house and try to get her out of the house and into my house. And then I kind of went down in town just a little ways and started to see all the damage to the buildings. I didn’t even make it down to the worst part, but it was like driving around a warzone.”

Pastor Distler’s E-Free church is an ideal location to help during this disaster as it is big and has power and wi-fi.

The church was so impactful that the Red Cross was set up and ready to take people in just two hours after the storm hit.

“The goal here is to have a safe place for people to eat and to have a place to sleep in a disaster,” said Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Meghan Powers. “We want to make sure that they are well cared for and make them feel safe.”

“There’s a lot of people in Gaylord displaced right now,” Distler said. “There was trailer parks that were leveled, and homes demolished, so we just opened up our building while working with the Red Cross and the United Way in kind of a team effort so that anybody that right now has a need has a safe place. If they need a ride here, we’re sending out our church vans and buses to pick them up.”

The shelter is for families who have lost everything and also for those without power tonight and might just need a meal.

Distler said all of the efforts are coming together tonight, and that’s how they will get through this disaster. They are sticking together as a community and counting on one another.


About the Authors:

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.