Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lt. Jim Gorno described the scene in the area as “catastrophic,” with cars overturned and structures destroyed.
Munson Healthcare spokesman Brian Lawson told CNN that 23 injured patients were taken to Otsego Memorial Hospital and 12 to Grayling Hospital. Eight people were treated at other hospitals outside the Munson system, he said. Michigan State Police said the number of injured was 44.
The city is under curfew until 8 a.m., officials said.
The tornado hit the area around 3:48 p.m., weather officials said.
“It’s a busy downtown, and he walked through it,” Gorno told CNN.
“We’re not used to it here,” he said. “We don’t have sirens like in other parts of the country.”
Gaylord council member Jordan Awrey said some establishments and businesses in the area now look like they’ve “never been there”.
“The town is devastated,” Awrey said, adding he was confident his community would be able to come together and rebuild.
The council member’s brother, Gabe Awrey, was driving home when the tornado struck. The moment he reached her street, he saw that she had been blocked. The 25-year-old then parked his car across the street before walking home.
“When I arrived there was debris in the front and back,” he said, adding that cars belonging to his neighbors had also been destroyed. “The building directly west of us, their entire roof blew off our property.”
The witness describes seeing and hearing the tornado
Video taken by Gaylord resident Brandon Smith shows debris thrown into the air after the tornado touched down.
Smith said he received a tornado alert on his phone and went out to see where she was.
“I looked outside and didn’t see much and a few minutes after this alert went off I looked across the house and that’s when I saw it. ‘saw it going over the trees,” he said.
Smith, who estimates he may have been a quarter mile from the tornado, described it as a freight train. He also said it sounded like an air compressor going off in the garage. “I imagine it was deafening to those in his path,” he said.
“We’re used to snow and we don’t mind it, but seeing this type of weather shocked everyone,” Smith said.
“To stand in front of my house, to see him in person was just amazing. I was in shock and amazed, I was like, ‘Holy cow, it’s right in front of my face,'” he added.
Governor pledges to help
National Weather Service meteorologist Sean Christensen told CNN the tornado struck west of downtown near Interstate 75 and moved east-northeast.
Governor Gretchen Witmer said her heart goes out to those affected by the storm.
About 25,000 people live in Gaylord and Otsego County, according to the US Census Bureau. The village is about 235 miles north of Detroit.
CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report.