Community comes together in ‘amazing’ show of support after Port Austin tornado
Jennifer Upthegrove was on her way home on Grindstone Road after visiting a friend when she saw the tornado coming.
Despite years of training as a former first responder, Upthegrove said she panicked so much she struggled to even unlock her phone in order to call 911.
After she got off the phone, Upthegrove parked her car and got out to stop people from driving over fallen power lines.
“Some lady pulled up and was yelling that people were trapped in a house down the road and needed help, and nobody could get to them right away,” Upthegrove said. “So I told her, take me there. I hopped in her car and off we went.”
By the time Upthegrove arrived at the scene, the trapped family had dug themselves out of the rubble. Upthegrove said she was moved by their strength and resilience.
“I'm so incredibly proud of how they were able to keep it together - they just did absolutely wonderful,” Upthegrove said. “They're part of our community, and we love them and only want what's best for each other.”
Upthegrove is just one of many who dropped what she was doing this weekend to offer support and aid to her neighbors.
Since the tornado hit, volunteers have mobilized, businesses opened up their services, individuals offered resources, neighbors checked in on one another and people have continued to ask, “what can I do to help?”
Freda Simon Hentschl lives in Forest Creek Condos, which Hentschl said is a community made up predominantly of retirees. She said she saw her elderly neighbors attempting to clean up the debris before going to Facebook to ask for volunteers.
“Ten minutes after the post, there were tractors, people in golf carts, people with wheelbarrows,” Hentschl said. “In three to four hours, the place was clean -- it was amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Hentschl said the response and outpouring support is emblematic of the type of community Port Austin has.
Although Forest Creek is now cleaned up, she said the volunteers are moving to Grindstone Road, where the damage was most severe, and the work won't stop until destroyed houses are rebuilt -- or homeowners are successfully relocated.
Josh Zimmerman is a volunteer firefighter for the Port Austin Fire Department, whose home was hit by the tornado near Forest Creek.
While he was out working with the fire department, he said several volunteers came over to his place, boarded up the windows and cleaned up the debris.
Zimmerman said it’s going to take a lot of time, resources and hard work to rebuild, but he was blown away by the “tremendous” volunteer turnout he had witnessed.
“It was just breathtaking that so many people showed up and did what they could do,” Zimmerman said.
Brandon Osantoski is a contractor for Osantoski Builders based in Bad Axe. He had seen photos of the destruction when he decided to go with his team to Port Austin to offer whatever help was needed.
They worked throughout the entire day, knocking on doors, picking up brush and debris and making small repairs.
Osantoski had only planned to come for Monday, but after seeing the destruction, he said he'll likely return throughout the week.
Osantoski said he hopes the community can “hang in there” and wants them to know that they’re never alone.
“There's people who are willing to help, so just hang in there, be patient and things will eventually come together, we just gotta keep our heads up and face it head on,” Osantoski said.
Upthegrove said she’s simultaneously amazed and not surprised by the support she’s seen because -- “that’s just what we do here.”
“My hope for the immediate future is that the community continues to pull together to help them get everything that they need until they can start rebuilding,” Upthegrove said. “Once they start rebuilding, I hope the community continues to help them do what is needed.”
The Port Austin Fire Department is still looking for volunteers for clean-up efforts. Monetary donations can be made to Port Austin Disaster Relief and dropped off at the Port Austin State Bank, Port Austin Village Hall and Port Austin Township Hall. For aid or assistance, visit Michigan 2-1-1 at mi211.org.
For more information on how to help, visit the Port Austin Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook.
This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group internship. Teresa is based at the Huron Daily Tribune. Read the print version of this story in the June 29 edition of the Huron Daily Tribune.