Tornado of May 8, 1964
On May 8, 1964, at 4:50 pm, an F4 tornado charged though Macomb county, putting Harbor Drive right in its path.
Account of the tornado from resident John Niemetta; brother of current resident Ann Potteiger:
The tornado touched down at 21 Mile Road and I-94 and continued until it passed out over the lake in Lottivue. It crossed Jefferson It had a wide base and from what I was told when it went down Harbor Dr. It did not look like a funnel but instead it appeared to be a large cloud rolling along the ground. It crossed Jefferson near the South end of Mallard Road. In 1964 there were only a few homes on Mallard and Forbes Dr. There were not many year round residence on Harbor Dr.. The majority of buildings were garages and cottages along the canal side of the road. The tornado followed Harbor Dr. within a few lots south of Mann Dr. Due to the curve in the bay from that point to the north end of Harbor Dr. the funnel was several hundred feet offshore and there was no sever damage, only roof damage and broken windows from Mann Dr. until you reached the north end of Harbor Dr. The building located on the corner of Mallard and Jefferson across from the old Lottie M. Schmidt office suffered sever damage. It had a flat roof supported with steel beams. The roof had been blown off and the steel beams were across the street in the yard at the office. The Lottie M. Schmidt office had only one broken widow which was broken by debris from the building across Jefferson. It is thought a second funnel may had formed that damaged that building..
Ann was at home with my one year old brother and Margaret Roberts. They had almost no warning. Margaret was fixing dinner. Jeff was in a highchair at the dinner table in front of a picture window. It looked like it may storm so Margaret sent Ann to the back of the house to close windows. Margaret looked out the picture window and saw what looked like a cloud rolling along the lake shore and everything in it’s path was being destroyed. It was at that point the first tornado warning came across the television. Margaret grabbed Jeff and headed to the basement steps that were less than 10 feet away in the kitchen area. She made it to only about the third step when the funnel passed the house in the bay just off the seawall. Ann was in the bedroom hallway and got caught between the wall and the fold up attic stairwell that pressure pulled down. Most people had no warning and took cover where ever possible. One woman at the north end of Harbor Dr. dove under a glass top coffee table which shattered. The house across the street and a couple lots north on the lake side was picked up off it’s slab and dropped back down on the slab in a pile of rubble. The mother and daughter had been inside and crawled out of the rubble with not a scratch. Both of these women along with about 10 others died over the next couple years from heart attacks at a relatively young age mostly in their 40’s and 50’s. Officially 12 people died in the tornado. For years when ever there was a storm some of the women that had gone through the tornado would become frantic. One women would bring her kids every time it stormed and go to our basement.
If I remember correctly the official death toll was 12 none on Harbor Dr. Most of the death occurred on the Salt River where boat houses had been built over the river with living quarters above. These places collapsed into the river killing the occupants. A mother and her children were killed on the south end of Forbes. A neighbor watched from her window as the house was picked up in the air and tipped first one way and then the next as the mother and children fell to their death from the house. The husband was at work at the time at Selfridge.
I was on my way home from collage when the tornado struck. My parents had picked me up and they told me of a bad storm they had encountered on I-75 near Lake Angelus and all traffic had to pull off the road until the storm abated. When we reached that area there were emergency vehicles on the west side of I-75. We turned on the radio to see if there was any news. The first reports stated a tornado had touched down in the area and then touched down again along the Anchorville shoreline. It was feared that school buses had been blown out into the lake as they were dropping off school children. As the reports came in it was stated the tornado had just missed the Sabel Manor military housing complex. We then knew it was not Anchorville that had be hit but instead it was Chesterfield Twp. and the Anchor Bay Harbor area. Due to all roads leading to the area being blocked off with police blockades we finally made it to 23 Mile Rd. and Jefferson They would not let us through so my father got back in the car, stepped on the gas heading toward the blockade as the police moved the road block and let us through. As we drove down Jefferson there was no evidence of a storm until we started to pass Lottivue. By the time we reached the Roselawn Dr. area it looked like a war zone. In the past you could never see the lake from Jefferson but now all you could see was destruction, a few severally damaged homes still standing and trees stripped of most of there limbs and a clear view of the lake. When we crossed the Mann Dr. bridge there had been a willow tree on the right corner of Mann Dr. and Harbor Dr. Up in the tree was a flattened washing machine rapped around the tree like a sheet of paper.
When we reach our house, Ann, Jeff and Margaret had been taken to the Gandernalik funeral home and were unhurt. The roof had been damaged, some broken windows and the shutters were hanging down on the sides of the windows. A mattress had been caught in a lake side window and the cotton stuffing pulled out all over the living room. Derbies up to knee deep filled the yard, We took lumber from the yard and put it it down on the floors of the house to keep from walking in glass. When cleaning up the dinner plats had been stacked in a cabinet. When we stated taking them out there was broken glass under every plat but no broken windows in the kitchen. Across the canal at our office there had been a combo garage and boat house. Most of the boat house was gone but the boat was in it’s hoist unharmed and a shingle had been driven half way through the garage door. My mother had a wig sitting on a Styrofoam head about 16 inches from the bedroom window. The window was gone, frame and all but the wig and Styrofoam head still sat there unmoved.
A baby was brought into our office (Lottie M. Shmidt, Inc.) that had been found in the bottom of a boat at the south end of Harbor Dr. When the dippers were changed they were full of glass but there was not mark on the baby. We were also told a human arm had been found on the Mann Dr. bridge. Billy Wilbur had been delivering news papers at the south end of Harbor Dr. with his sister Mary Joe. Their car rolled a number of times and stopped just short of the lake shore. That night my father and other men of Harbor Dr. armed themselves along with soldiers from Selfridge and patrolled the street to prevent looting. The tornado watch remained in effect most of the night with several bad storms. We could not sleep with shutters banging on the sides of the house and the noise of loose sections of roof. At one point my mother thought she heard someone outside the front door. She took the lit candelabra in her white full length bathrobe and went out the front door only to find a soldier trying to take cover from the storm. I don’t know who was scared who the most, my mother or the young soldier.
Everyone knew us in those days and seeing we were one of the first house still standing, family members that had ran from 21 Mile Rd. because the police would not let them drive in would stop at our house first to see if we knew anything. Some passed out from exhaustion others after learning everyone was okay. The following day, I and the Wilbur Children took long lengths of lumber and used them to push through the derbies along the seawall looking for bodies. A Soup Kitchen was set up in the basement of our office and the churches in New Baltimore brought in donated food. The insurance companies set up a claims location in our office.
The Arvillas lived in the what is now the 3rd or 4th house to the right of the bridge on the lake. It was the last house to be a total loss on the south end of Harbor Dr. Some of their belongings and personal papers were found in a farm field in Canada. The Red Cross came in with a vehicle with food and water and parked a couple lots to the north of my parents. They charged for everything. I also was told that all donations that were collected by the township the Red Cross requested it be turned over to them to cover their expenses. To this day I will not donate to the Red Cross.
Our Insurance Agency had 25 total losses. Allstate Insurance tried to scam some owners. A home located near the curve on Jefferson was insured with Allstate. Within 24 hours the homeowner was presented a check for his loss. It was used in national Allstate commercials on television. We insured the next door neighbor who also had a total loss. He was mad because his claim took so long. We had been issued draft authority to write checks for the total amount of additional living expense on their policies which he had already received and told to take his time making a list of everything that was lost. When he got his final settlement, it was far greater than the neighbor. It turned out Allstate only paid the dwelling amount listed on the policy and did not cover additional living expense, additional structures including his detached garage and contents. He ended up suing Allstate for the remainder of his claim. There was also a garage at was used as a cottage in the summer at the north end of Harbor Dr. An Allstate adjuster came into our officer wanting my father to sign a document stating the value of the building at $1,000 far under the insured amount. My father refused to singe it stating the insured amount was in keeping with what it would cost to rebuild. In the early 60’s Allstate had a bad reputation in the insurance industry. When they came out with auto and homeowners policies the premiums were very low and they did not turn anyone down and would build up a large book of business and then raise the rates and non renew everything they did not want.
We had no electricity or phone service for several weeks. A phones were set up in a parking lot at the foot of Cotton Rd. and Jefferson just outside the blockade.
The tornado had touched down at I-94 and 21 Mile Rd. and stayed on the ground until it passed into the lake after damaging some homes in Lottivue.
The long term effect on Harbor Dr. was that most of the dwellings had been cottages on the canal side of the road. Some were only a couple feet off the road and they were close together. Much as they are today on Jans Dr. at the foot of 21 Mile Rd. Most of those dwellings were on the south end of Harbor Dr. and in the direct path of the tornado. The township refused to let them rebuild on the Canal side and today the only buildings on the canal side were there prior to the tornado. The buildings on the canal on the north end of Harbor Dr. had little if any damage except a couple at the far end of the road.