BRIMFIELD, Mass. On Hollow Road here in Brimfield songbirds filled the air as sunlight broke. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky … or a large tree left standing.
A half-mile path of pines on a forest ridge had snapped off and four houses were demolished or ruined across the street from Stephen Phifer’s place.
“This is what you see on TV from the middle of the country,” Phifer said. “I guess we don’t expect it here.”
He wasn’t old enough to remember the 1938 hurricane, but this was like what his mother had told him about. The big-framed woodworker was still stunned as he faced the ruins of his workshop and his neighborhood, and recalled finding people in the wreckage, like the 86-year-old woman across the street.
“I got up to the stairs and she was at the head of the stairs with no walls around her,” Phifer said.
He, like everyone else on Hollow Road, spoke in the grammar of catastrophe. Everything was past tense.
“This lady, there was a house here,” he said. “It’s totally gone. It’s in the front. She was standing at the top of her driveway. She said, ‘What happened?’ She didn’t know what happened. I don’t know how she survived that.”
This was where the door was. This is where the mobile homes were. Nobody has seen them since. The field of debris led to where his tenants — a 72-year-old woman, her daughter and her granddaughter — lived.
“This was an apartment downstairs where the grandmother lived,” he described. “In the middle of the rubble I saw three heads. I was sure I was going to find bodies.
“They were standing there and I said, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘We don’t dare move because of the electrical,’ [they replied]. Someone was watching.”
Hollowed out on Hollow Road in no more than three seconds of storm. Pfifer needed a lot more coffee. His workshop and his tools, his means to make a living, were up in the air.
“I got jobs. I don’t know where my money is going to come from,” he said. “Man, I’ve never seen this.”
Down the road a short bit sat an empty concrete pad. Wall insulation hung from the snags of trees. On that pad a mobile home once sat. The owner was inside when the tornado lifted it, “Wizard of Oz”-style, into the sky.
“Well this guy actually had his cat with him,” said David Killian. “Him and the cat both survived in the mobile home even though he was airborne when it all happened.” Killian lives next door and only lost a window. The man and the cat had fallen from the mobile home before it fell apart, and then fell on them.
Across the street where the barn once was, the horses had been rescued. The people who lived upstairs were homeless. Matt McLean was thankful his wife, who’d run into the last stall, had survived when the barn came down around her.
His friend, Ron Weston, lost his horse business.
“I’m the owner of Hollow Brook Farm, or was,” Weston said.
He’s still the owner.
“That’s about all I can say for it. We’re all still alive.”
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