True Blue Farms survives Saturday’s tornado, owner says it was like a ‘war zone’

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VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. — Shelly Hartmann got an alert text on her phone around 1:30pm on Saturday saying a tornado was coming. She stepped away from her office at True Blue Farms in Grand Junction and looked outside.

“I was on the back porch of the office and I’m like ‘I don’t see anything’,” said Hartmann, owner of the blueberry farm. “Then all of a sudden the leaves started turning inside out and I could actually see the side of the vortex.”

The tornado was in front of her. Hartmann said the sky turned dark gray and the winds picked up. Debris was flying around everywhere. She and a friend wanted to take a picture of the scene to post on Facebook but immediately they ran back inside yelling for employees to take cover.

“We went in the hallway and then we put our heads between our legs,” said Hartmann during an interview at the farms. “But then sounds, it was like glass breaking and crashing and pounding, like a bomb, like you’re in war zone.”

A tornado tore through parts of Van Buren and Allegan counties with winds going 110 miles per hour. True Blue Farms was in its path. Hartmann said it touched down for only 30 seconds but said it operated like a vacuum. It sucked up parts of their indoor facility and plopped it down like garbage. Ceilings and walls collapsed. Vehicles' windshields were shattered. Hartmann and her husband Dennis were devastated, along with other 65 employees working that day.

“Regardless of what insurance pays, doesn’t pay, we’re personally going to make sure that their vehicles are taken care of for the glass breakage," said Hartmann. "It's the least we can do."

Hartmann said when the tornado was over about 100 people from the community stopped by to help them clean up the mess. It’ll take another three weeks for the all the debris to be removed, she said. Afterwards, adjusters and contractors will give her an estimate about how much the damage, and repairs, will cost. So far though, it’s been business as usual at the farms.

“For all the employees we’re getting them t-shirts that say We survived the True Blue Tornado of 2016," said Hartmann with a smile on her face.  “We’re keeping the morale going for the employees, who are just like our family.”

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