Photo Gallery: 1980 Tornado
On Tuesday, 13 May 1980, a tornado struck the heart of Kalamazoo, Michigan. First touching down at 4 pm eight miles west of the city limits, it rapidly moved eastward through downtown until it dissipated east of the city at 4:25 pm. Only twenty-five minutes had elapsed, but the devastation left in the tornado’s 11-mile wake was considerable: five people dead, seventy-nine injured, and over fifty million dollars in total property damage. Governor William Milliken, walking through the area only hours later, remarked, “it reminds me of a bombed-out city.”
City’s Worst Disaster
When the tornado first struck over the relatively open terrain west of Kalamazoo, it caused only minor damage to trees, fences, and power poles. This changed dramatically once the storm entered the city limits. Homes were leveled in the Westwood residential district, and monuments were overturned at Mountain Home Cemetery. The gymnasium at St. Augustine Elementary School was severely damaged. Fortunately, school had already been dismissed, so most children were at home when the tornado struck.
Bronson Park, the two-acre cultural center of the city, and also the home of numerous century-old oak trees, was also hit. Twenty-six of those trees were downed or damaged, including the one which had shaded Abraham Lincoln when he addressed Kalamazoo in 1856. The roof of the nine-story ISB Building (today the Comerica Building) was ripped away, and its glass exterior was almost completely destroyed; only a handful of its windows remained intact.
Much of the back brick wall of the seven-story Gilmore Brothers Department Store was removed in one clean slice, depositing a six-foot high pile of bricks in the adjacent alley. In a parking structure nearby, cars were flipped over, their windows popped out by changing air-pressure. Kalamazoo Mayor Edward Annen Jr. commented: “This is the worst disaster our city has ever seen, but we'll come back from this.”
Video of the 1980 Tornado
Workers at the Sound Room (a downtown hi-fi shop) made this historic videotape of the 1980 tornado and its aftermath. “This is the first amateur color VHS video recording of a killer tornado in the United States using a RCA color video camera and attendant recorder.”
Video courtesy and copyright © 1980 Ted Ruble. | View more on YouTube