Two survivors remember Kalamazoo tornado 40 years later

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Forty years have passed since a powerful tornado devastated Kalamazoo on May 13, 1980, but two survivors remember the monumental event like it was yesterday.

Weather spotter Raymond Hackman was at his office on the city’s north side when he heard the news on the radio.

“I ran upstairs to the second floor and there I could see the top of the funnel and that jagged cloud,” Hackman said.

The tornado veered south, missing his office. It ripped a path of destruction through downtown Kalamazoo. The sight of all the damage has made a lasting impact on Hackman and other survivors.

“It was the most major tornado to hit in southwest Michigan that I’ve ever heard of,” Hackman said.

It killed five people and injured 79.

Attorney Gordon Miller was working at his practice in what’s now the Comerica Building and was inside when it was hit head on.

“I was on the first floor when the tornado went over,” Miller said.

He said it shattered almost every window in the building.

“They kept us inside the building to put scaffolding up out the front door and then to put plywood over so that we wouldn’t get hit by falling glass,” Miller said.

His legal documents were thrown for miles and mixed in with debris all the way to Comstock Township.

Miller is grateful for the advancements in technology that have improved forecasting and provided new ways to send out warnings. He wonders the difference that could have made in 1980.

“I think that the human toll would have been a lot less,” Miller said.