Massachusetts towns thankful tornado wasn't worse
Thursday, June 2, 2011
MONSON, Mass. (AP) — The sight of flattened homes, peeled-off roofs and the toppled steeple of a 140-year-old church stunned New Englanders after deadly tornadoes swept through Massachusetts, striking an area of the country that rarely sees such severe twisters.
The storms, which came with fair warning but still shocked with their intensity, killed at least three people, injured about 200 and wreaked damage in a string of 18 cities and villages across central and western Massachusetts.
Tornadoes are not unheard of in New England — the downtown of Connecticut’s largest city was devastated by one last June — so many people heeded warnings. That didn’t guarantee their survival; among the dead was a mother who shielded her teenage daughter as they huddled in a bathtub.
But in many cases, doing the right thing — quickly — helped save lives.
Karen Irla, 50, was leaving Adams Hometown Market in the picturesque village of Monson when she heard children on their bicycles yelling, “Look at that tornado!”
“I screamed and I screamed and I screamed, and that’s why I have no voice today,” said Irla, who went against experts’ recommendations by getting in her car. She made it to a nearby senior center and waited until the storm passed.
Inside the market, produce manager Frank Calabrese made a quick decision that helped keep customers and employees from coming to harm.
In a move recalling a famous video from the recent deadly tornado in Missouri that documented shoppers’ terrifying moments inside a convenience store cooler, Calabrese herded them into a walk-in freezer, where six to eight endless minutes passed while the building shook and windows shattered.
“What else are were going to do?” he said. “We sat inside and waited it out.” No one in the store suffered a scratch.
The storms hit as many people headed home from work Wednesday, paralyzing motorists who could see the twister coming at them.
A fixed television camera caught dramatic images of a debris-filled tunnel cloud crossing the Connecticut River and slamming into Springfield, a working-class city of about 140,000 residents, where it cut a swath of destruction 10 blocks wide in some spots. The city is home to the Basketball Hall of Fame, which was spared damage.
Among the injured in Springfield was a prosecutor struck in the head by debris while walking to her car; she is expected to survive, but her name was not released.
The Hampden County district attorney, Mark Mastroianni, said he barely escaped injury himself when plate glass windows shattered and blew into his office and a conference room.
“People started to scream, ‘Get away from the windows,’ and as I was just turning to run, the glass window just came flying in,” he said.
The story was repeated in town after town around Springfield. Some of the most severe damage was in Monson, about 15 miles away, where homes were leveled and a historic church was badly damaged.
The toppled steeple of the First Church of Monson — founded in 1762 and rebuilt in 1873 — was a symbol of the heartbreak many residents were feeling. But townspeople were relieved that no one in the town of fewer than 10,000 was killed — and were determined to rebuild.
Patrick said he was moved by gestures of goodwill.
A woman in Monson received a phone call from someone in the Boston suburb of Milton — the governor’s hometown — who had recovered her checkbook register after the ferocious winds apparently carried it 90 miles.
He also addressed the death of the West Springfield woman who died while saving her daughter’s life by covering her in the bathtub.
“I’m a dad, and I understand a mom or dad would do anything to save their child,” Patrick said.