Tornadoes Tear Through Mass. Leaving Four Dead, Dozens Injured

Twisters slammed Massachusetts Wednesday, leaving a path of destruction.

ByABC News
June 2, 2011, 3:21 AM

June 2, 2011— -- Multiple tornadoes slammed western and central Massachusetts Wednesday, leaving a path of destruction that destroyed buildings, flipped vehicles and left at least four people dead and an unknown number injured.

At least three tornadoes struck the city of Springfield, Mass., alone, with a fourth unconfirmed twister possibly touching down in the city, Mayor Dominic J. Sarno said. Many of those storms also blasted the areas surrounding the city of more than 150,000 residents situated 90 miles west of Boston.

According to the National Weather Service, there were seven reports of tornadoes touching down in Massachusetts Wednesday.

The twisters hit as unstable weather threatened the entire Northeast, bringing tornado watches to Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Golf Ball size hail was reported from New York to Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, while thunderstorms produced wind gusts from 60 to 70 miles per hour across New England.

The situation in Massachusetts was so bad that Gov. Deval Patrick declared a statewide state of emergency, calling up 1,000 members of the National Guard.

Two of the four fatalities in Massachusetts occurred in West Springfield, and there was one each in Springfield and Brimfield, a state official said, correcting earlier official statements.

Sources also disagreed on the number and location of confirmed tornado touch-downs in the state.

Patrick said early Wednesday evening that at least 19 Massachusetts communities were affected by rough weather and an unspecified number of twisters.

"Motorists should be off the roads," Patrick said. "There are downed limbs, downed wires."

An 80-member FEMA task force will be deployed in West Springfield beginning today.

Springfield officials were doing house-to-house checks on residents. Local and state officials hoped to do a fuller damage assessment on the affected regions in the morning daylight.

"With 19 communities affected, I can't imagine, given what we're hearing about some of the reports of damage, that there will not be federal assistance," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Peter Judge, from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) told ABC News that as of early Thursday morning there were about 50,000 without power.

"There is some very serious damage -- we're aware of city blocks that aren't there anymore, homes that have lost roofs," Judge said.

"It was obviously an incredible surprise ... we'd been monitoring the weather all day and by early afternoon nobody was overly concerned ... but by late afternoon some storm clouds started to appear," he added.

Judge also told ABC News that officials are ready to run with chainsaw crew to work with debris, and MEMA is sending out assessment teams in daylight to see what the real damage is. There will also be experts flying over the region Thursday to assess damage, according to the Associated Press.

Wednesday's tornadoes were the worst outbreak in the state since 1953, when 94 people were killed by a tornado in central Massachusetts. The state's last lethal tornado was in 1995.

But Massachusetts sees more tornadoes than many perceive -- between 1950 and 2011, the state saw 155 tornadoes, averaging about two tornadoes per year. The last time Massachusetts saw a tornado was in July of 2008, southwest of Boston.

Springfield-Area Tornado Damage: 'Like King Kong Took a Walk'

Video and still photos of apparent tornadoes hitting Springfield and elsewhere in Massachusetts showed funnel clouds, swirling winds and debris flying through the air.

Even after the twisters passed, cameras on buildings trained on the western part of Springfield showed broken trees, roof damage and overturned trucks. Roads were impassable in the hardest-hit areas and some people were stuck in their cars because of downed trees and power lines.The tornadoes came into the town with only 10 minutes warning. Skip Hynd described the scene just across the Connecticut River on Main Street in West Springfield, Mass.

"It looked like King Kong took a walk through there," he said. "Every side street is just about impassable."

Baystate Medical Center in Springfield was treating numerous injured people, some with serious force trauma injuries, spokeswoman Jane Albert told The Associated Press.

Late Wednesday evening, Springfield Mayor Sarno said the number of people hospitalized for weather-related causes in the city stood beyond 40.

At least 250 people were being sheltered overnight at the MassMutual Center arena in the city, Patrick said.

As those displaced residents assembled at the arena, they contrasted with teens in tuxedoes and dresses attending a high school prom upstairs at the same arena.

But the revelry of the prom for Minnechaug Regional High School of Wilbraham, Mass., did not reflect the fear many in the area felt hours earlier.

Betsy Hogan was on Memorial Bridge between Springfield and West Springfield when tornadoes began rolling through around 4:35 p.m.

"I was at the halfway mark on the bridge and the tractor trailer in front of me flipped right over," she told ABC News Springfield, Mass., affiliate WGGB. "I'm still shaking. ... Once that tractor trailer went I thought I was going to go too.

"Trees were down all over the place on Memorial and windows were blown out," she added.

Cassie Moore also was stuck on the bridge and sheltered the driver of the overturned truck in her compact car.