SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – 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 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.
“Everything started shaking. The whole building was shaking,” said Shonda Lopez, who was at home when the tornado struck.
Lopez’ sister, Margaret Alexander, hid in a closet in her apartment during the storm. She and 15 family members, including a daughter, two granddaughters and the family dog, later went to the MassMutual Center, a cavernous event center in downtown Springfield that was converted into an emergency shelter.
Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and called up 1,000 National Guardsmen after the storms, which brought scenes of devastation more familiar in the South and Midwest to a part of the country where such violent weather isn’t a way of life.
The governor said the death toll was preliminary and police and firefighters were going door to door in Springfield to ensure that no one was trapped in damaged buildings.
Massachusetts hasn’t experienced a tornado since 2008, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The state normally averages about two per year.
The last killer tornado in Massachusetts was on May 29, 1995, when three people died in Great Barrington, a town along the New York state border. The state’s deadliest recorded tornado on June 9, 1953, killed 94 people in the Worcester area.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said more than 40 people were admitted to hospitals in the city after Wednesday’s tornado. State police said at least 5 people were seriously injured and required surgery.
The storms tore a swath of damage through 19 communities, including several small towns in western and central Massachusetts.
“I can see the plywood of roofs, and see houses where most of the house is gone,” said the Rev. Bob Marrone of the First Church of Monson, which had its steeple toppled by a tornado.
In Sturbridge, at the junction of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 84, a half-mile section of Main Street was shut down after a tornado damaged homes and felled trees, according to town administrator Shaun Suhoski.
Suhoski said some people suffered “cuts, scrapes, bruises,” though no serious injuries were immediately reported. The storm blew trees into houses and severely damaged telephone poles and rooftops, he said.
“It was a pretty heavy assault from the storm system and we’re trying to dig out and assess it right now,” Suhoski said.
Two people were killed in West Springfield, one in Springfield and another in Brimfield, according to Patrick, who did not immediately know the circumstances of the deaths.
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