Tornado Tears Through Kentwood Birthday Celebration

KENTWOOD, Mich. (July 7, 2014) — The recent tornado in Kentwood left a strip mall with a roof collapsed, some windows blown out, and no power. The owner, Phil Wiltjer,  says there’s no way to tell yet how much damage there actually is and how much it will cost.

Forty  people who were inside during the storm say they’re just thankful they made it out alive.

The remains of the building now line the parking lot ground, and all Wiltjer can do today is stand behind the yellow line of caution tape as crews work to pick up the mess.

“At about midnight I got a phone call from someone that says you might want to come over and look at your shop,” he said.

Wiltjer has owned the building for forty years, and says he’s never seen anything like this.

“It’s pretty disheartening,” he added.

The future of the building hangs in the balance. Phil is unsure if it’s worth re-building yet or not.

“It’s up to the tenants and the insurance company what they want to do from here.”

One thing he’s most thankful for is that people like Robert Tolbert and his wife Jeannie who were in the banquet room during the storm when the roof collapsed, made it out alive.

“A good friend of ours was having a birthday party, a 60th birthday party, and we came out to celebrate. Everything was going nice and well and having a good time,” said Tolbert.

But when the high winds geared up Robert and his wife knew this was no passing storm.

“You didn’t know which way to turn. Wires were all over the place, transformers popping and there was a lot of water.”

Robert and Jeannie came back today to see what was left of the building, and take pictures of the damage.

“It’s worse than I thought. I didn’t realize there was this much damage to it. I really didn’t.”

What started as a lovely evening celebrating sixty years of life, didn’t end like they expected.

 “I’m just thankful and grateful we made it out and are safe.  Bernadette had a great party,” Jeannie said.

After making it through this devastating storm, they can celebrate many birthdays to come.The cleanup for the building is taking longer than expected because the transformers on the telephone poles outside the building fell off.

Emergency crews are worried there may be harmful oil in the transformers that might get into the storm drain system. They are working on testing and mopping that all up before they can start to do work on the building.

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