Natural Disaster
10:42 am
Fri June 3, 2011

Springfield In Shambles After Tornado

Tornadoes in New England aren’t common, especially ones that leave behind a lot of damage. But yesterday a series of twisters ripped through western Massachusetts, killing three people. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen  reports

Just before four in the afternoon yesterday, forty four year old Marisol Mendez was standing on her porch in the south end of Springfield when she saw a huge black cloud clamp down from above. Her first reaction? Capture it on her cell phone camera. But then she dashed inside into a closet. Her hand clutching the door knob fighting the wind:

“Everything was shaking. All the wind was blowing very hard  and the building was shaking. The windows and the floor. Even our feet. The floor shaking from side to side.”

Today the sun is out, but the wind is still blowing. Debris and dust swirl through the air. Springfield Attorney Laura Marino is picking up wooden rafters that flew from another building and landed on her sidewalk. Yesterday when her building began to shake, she took shelter in the basement.

“Within two minutes, which for us lasted an eternity, we came outside  and there were people screaming in the streets, branches, trees blowing, cars blown up. I mean, it was awful and it happened in two minutes but it felt like forever.”

Marino says she was surprised more people didn’t get hurt. A roof from a nearby building came off.

“We actually saw it fly- it was in the air. It was like the Wizard of Oz.”

Around the corner from Marino’s office Governor Deval Patrick is picking his way through broken glass.

“A lot of people have had their lives upside down and we’re going to do everything to help them get back on their feet.”

Springfield wasn’t the only place hit. At least three tornadoes tore through the area, lashing through Brimfield, Munson and West Springfield. Hail the size of golf balls came down on the Mass Pike and as far north as southern Vermont. In Westfield, Mayor Dan Knapik says the tornado yanked trees out of the ground.

“Trees of just massive size just knocked over like matchstick, and houses flattened and roads completely impassable. And dozens and dozens of power poles snapped in half and wires everywhere.”

In Springfield, Ricardo Bedinotti from the Building Department is trying to make sure electrical wires don’t start any fires. I find him gazing up at an office building with the exterior wall ripped off.

“Well, in the 24 years of service for the city of Springfield I’ve never seen this type of disaster before. It’s very dangerous. It’s very unsafe. The Building Department is scanning the entire area. The building inspectors, electrical and plumbing to make sure making sure the gas is shut off. The electric is shut off  and the buildings are trying to be secured.”

Despite the devastation, Bedinotti is grateful.

“It’ as miracle that all these people became safe. It’s a miracle. God looked over the city and protected the people in the city.”

But parts of the city are in rubble. And many who survived are shaken. And wondering whether they’ll have a place to call home again.