BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday afternoon scaled back a state of emergency, nearly 24 hours after a violent storm system of a now-confirmed three tornadoes swept through western and central Massachusetts, killing at least three.
Only Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Worcester counties remain under a state of emergency as the coordinated response moves toward a cleanup phase.
Patrick and other state leaders, including Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry, surveyed tornado damage Thursday. The governor said the people of greater Springfield are “badly shaken” but he considers it a blessing that there weren’t more fatalities. A fourth fatality originally attributed to the tornadoes was a cardiac incident in Springfield that may not have been related to the storm.
Patrick called the damage caused by Wednesday’s severe weather “a real mess.”
“It’ll take some time, there’s no doubt about it,” the governor said. “But we are resilient people in the commonwealth, and we’ve got a great team responding to this, and it will all be well in the end.”
Police and National Guard troops in Springfield were knocking on doors Thursday, looking for anyone who might be injured or need help. Around 200 injuries were reported in the area, in addition to the deaths, said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, nearly 40,000 residents were still without power. Utilities in western Massachusetts warned customers without power that it could take several days to complete all repairs.
Patrick, Brown and Kerry took a helicopter tour of the region Thursday and then toured Brimfield and Monson, communities hit especially hard, on foot.
Reported WBUR’s Curt Nickisch in Monson, “Some houses are literally flipped over, others completely collapsed into the basement. Roofs are off of houses. It’s devastating. Amazingly, nobody was hurt.”
Patrick said he met a mother and her child in Monson sitting on their front steps, which was all that was left of their demolished house.
“She told me that her check register was recovered — now this was in the town of Monson — her check register was recovered in the town of Milton — that I live in — some 80, 90 miles away,” Patrick said. “Someone from Milton called and said, ‘We found your check register here.’ ”
Brown said the scope of the damage was hard to believe and the key now is taking care of residents.
“We visited West Springfield and we saw a number of the buildings that had just been flattened,” Kerry told WBUR’s Morning Edition. “There was a fatality in one of them. And cars dislodged, blown into buildings, it was really a devastating scene.”
Kerry added that he’s confident that federal disaster aid will be made available for the area, particularly because of the damage to many businesses. FEMA teams were in the region Thursday.
Kerry said that it’s hard to make sense of the damage.
“Twenty yards away there is a building that’s completely untouched and standing in front of me there’s one that’s absolutely flattened and destroyed,” Kerry said from Springfield. “The random, reckless nature of destruction is really quite amazing.”
MEMA’s Judge said people should stay away from affected areas, if possible, so state and federal crews can continue their search and rescue and cleanup efforts.
“These storms that were generating tornadoes, they marched from the western part of the state all the way east, and it really didn’t start to weaken until they got near the [Route] 128 corridor,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Dunham. “To see them maintain that intensity, along basically two-thirds of the width of the state, I haven’t seen that very often.”
Reporting from the WBUR Newsroom and The Associated Press; compiled by Benjamin Swasey
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