By Corey Williams
DETROIT — Wind gusts topping 60 mph in some areas whipped through several Great Lakes states and fanned a blaze that killed five people and injured four others in a Detroit apartment building.
The strong winds Wednesday afternoon also pushed a commuter jet carrying members of the University of Michigan basketball team off a runway during takeoff southwest of Detroit.
A semitrailer rolled over on a bridge in Ohio, commuter trains were stopped in East Chicago, Indiana, after high-voltage power lines fell on tracks, and some school roofs in Michigan were swept away.
More than 800,000 customers lost electrical service in Michigan, utilities there said Wednesday night.
“We have crews working around the clock in difficult weather conditions,” said Guy Packard, vice president of energy operations for one of those utilities, Consumers Energy. “With the rough weather continuing, we expect this to be a multi-day restoration effort.”
It’s not clear what caused the Detroit apartment fire. Flames and smoke danced through windows of the two-story building on the city’s east side Wednesday afternoon as firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
Detroit officials also said the city’s communications operations were receiving “an abnormally high volume” of 911 calls due to problems caused by the windy conditions.
No members of Michigan’s basketball team were hurt after their plane skidded off the Willow Run Airport runway in Ypsilanti. The takeoff “was aborted … after strong braking,” team spokesman Tom Wywrot said in an email. He added that the plane sustained “extensive damage.”
Michigan faces Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Elsewhere in Michigan, a fire started after power lines were knocked down in St. Clair County’s Kimball Township, prompting nearby homes to be evacuated.
More than 180 students at an early childhood center in Barry County’s Woodland Township, southeast of Grand Rapids, were bused to a nearby high school after winds blew part of the center’s roof away. Part of the roof at Birch Run High School, southeast of Saginaw, also was blown away but the school was not evacuated.
No one was injured at the center or school.
“We’ve got heavy winds today and some of the roofing material above the auxiliary gym started coming off and, as a result, we shut down that area and got some maintenance workers to assess the situation,” schools Superintendent David Bush told MLive.com regarding Birch Run High School.
The Veterans’ Glass City Skyway in Toledo was closed after the Ohio Department of Transportation posted a video showing a semitrailer toppling over Wednesday after crossing the bridge. Crews later stopped traffic from crossing the bridge on Interstate 280.
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District spokesman John Parsons told The (Northwest Indiana) Times that power lines fell Wednesday on the South Shore tracks in East Chicago, leading the district to hold trains at their originating stations.