Deadly Tornado Hits Massachusetts

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - Tornadoes roared through Massachusetts on Wednesday, as violent winds caused damage in about two dozen communities, ripping off roofs, uprooting trees, scattering debris and leaving at least four dead throughout the state.

The governor said the death toll was preliminary.

The storm pulverized or sheared off the tops of roofs on Main
Street in Springfield, a city of more than 150,000 about 90 miles
west of Boston. A mounted video camera captured dramatic footage of
a debris-filled funnel as it swept into downtown from the west,
then crossed the Connecticut River.

Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and called up
1,000 National Guardsmen after the storms, which brought scenes of
devastation recently wreaked in the South and Midwest to a part of
the country where such violent weather isn't a way of life.

The Rev. Bob Marrone of The First Church of Monson said the
storm cleared a view he's never seen across the valley where the
town sits.

"I can see the plywood of roofs, and see houses where most of
the house is gone," said Marrone, whose church's steeple was
knocked down. "The road that runs up in front of my house ...
There's so many trees down, it's completely impassable."

Thomas Walsh, a spokesman for Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno,
told The Associated Press he was looking out his City Hall window
around 4:30 p.m. when he saw the funnel.

"I could see this massive cloud of debris floating around in a
circular, cylindrical fashion," he said.

At least four people were killed from the storms, Patrick said.

Sarno said more than 40 people have been admitted to hospitals
in Springfield.

"It looked like birds were flying out of the trees and it was rubble," said Martha Vachon of Photography by Duval of Palmer, who was photographing the Minnechaug Regional High School prom in
downtown Springfield, which went on as planned.

Around 55,000 customers National Grid, Western Mass. Electric
and Unitil were reportedly without power.

One of the tornadoes struck downtown Springfield, the state's
third-largest city, in the afternoon, frightening workers and
residents.

Margaret Alexander, 40, of Springfield, said she found sanctuary
in a closet in her apartment during the tornado. After the storm
passed she went outside and headed to the Mass Mutual Center on the advice of neighbors.

She and 15 family members - a sister, daughter, two
grand-daughters and the family dog Sasha in a crate -- were at the
cavernous makeshift emergency shelter. "I'm just happy to be with
my family and that everyone is safe," Alexander said.

Jane Albert, spokeswoman Baystate Medical Center in Springfield,
said the hospital was treating 10 seriously injured patients in its
trauma unit and an unknown but significant number of less seriously
hurt people.

"There is search and rescue going on throughout the region now,
so we expect more patients," she said.

Among the injured in Springfield was a retired priest, according
to a spokesman for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Springfield.
The priest was living at St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence,
which was damaged by the apparent tornado.

The storm hit as workers were beginning to leave for the evening
commute home. A tractor-trailer overturned during the storm on the
Memorial Bridge leading to West Springfield.

State police said in addition to Springfield they have reports
of tornadoes in the communities of Agawam, Charlton, Monson,
Oxford, West Springfield, Westfield, Wilbraham and Sturbridge.

Since 1950, Massachusetts has had about two tornadoes per year,
and there had been none since 2008, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration said. The last deadly tornado in the
state occurred on May 29, 1995, when three people were killed, NOAA
said.

The state police Special Emergency Response Team was activated
and its members were searching some damaged structures to make sure there are no people trapped inside.

Police closed some highway ramps leading into Springfield.

Upstairs at the Mass Mutual Center in downtown Springfield high
school seniors graduating Minnechaug Regional High School in
Wilbraham this Friday were arriving for their prom.

Jola Wnuk said she almost didn't come because of the weather.
But her mother persuaded her to go. "She said it's once in a
lifetime," Wnuk said.

Photographers setting up tables at the Mass Mutual Center said
they had a frightening view of the tornado just outside the
center's ceiling-to-floor windows.

The storm hit Springfield after a tornado watch was issued for
much of the East Coast, including Philadelphia, New York and
Boston.

State police said there was heavy damage in spots and troopers
were prepared to do house-to-house searches if needed.

Bob Pashko, of West Springfield, said he was coming from his
doctor's office when the storm started and he went to a downtown
bar in Springfield to wait for a ride.

"The next thing you know the TV says a tornado hit the railroad
bridge in West Springfield," said Pashko, 50. "It's the baddest
I've seen."

At the bar, Pashko said, the owner told people to get away from
the window as patrons saw the storm on TV.

"To see it live on TV when I'm five football fields away is
better than being outside," Pashko said.

In Sturbridge, in central Massachusetts, a half-mile section of
Main Street was shut down after a tornado apparently touched down,
damaging homes and felling trees, according to town administrator
Shaun Suhoski.

Suhoski said some people suffered "cuts, scrapes, bruises,"
though no serious injuries were immediately reported. But he said
emergency crews were cleaning up after the storm blew trees into
houses and severely damaged telephone poles and rooftops. A shelter has been set up in town at Tantasqua Senior Regional High School.

"It was a pretty heavy assault from the storm system and we're
trying to dig out and assess it right now," Suhoski said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, joined join Patrick in a tour
of tornado damage. "Our immediate priority is the safety of
families in every area affected or still threatened by this
horrific disaster," said Kerry in a statement.

Patrick said there was extensive damage in Hampden County,
especially to homes and other structures. He said there were a
number of live wires down. The state has opened shelters for those
whose homes were damaged or who need a place to stay.

Patrick repeated his call for superintendents in the 19 affected
communities to cancel school Thursday. He said non-essential state
employees are not required to report to work, saying this would
help keep people off the roads to give cleanup crews a chance to
work.

The governor also said he had preliminary reports of some
looting in downtown Springfield. He said that looting tapered off
as heavy rains set in. The State Police is securing the area. No
looting arrests were reported.

Patrick said the damage has hit home for him and Lt. Gov.
Timothy Murray. Murray is the former mayor of Worcester and Patrick
owns a home in western Massachusetts.

"These are my neighbors and my friends, too; the lieutenant
governor's as well," Patrick said. "We're worried about our
friends and neighbors, our fellow citizens in western Massachusetts
who have been affected by this terrible tragedy."

Massachusetts hasn't experienced a tornado since 2008, according
to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

The last deadly tornado in the state was on May 29, 1995. Three
people were killed by the storm in the town of Great Barrington,
Mass., along the New York state border.

On June 9, 1953, the deadliest recorded tornado in Massachusetts
history cut a swath of destruction through the central part of the
state, including the city of Worcester, killing 94 people and
injuring hundreds.


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