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Monson Residents Come Together After Tornado's Destruction07:31
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Pia Rogers, with her husband Harry, picks through her leveled home in Monson on Thursday, one day after it was destroyed by a tornado. "It could be worse," she said. "It's just stuff." (AP)
Pia Rogers, with her husband Harry, picks through her leveled home in Monson on Thursday, one day after it was destroyed by a tornado. "It could be worse," she said. "It's just stuff." (AP)

Hundreds remain in shelters Friday morning and thousands are without electricity as people in central and western Massachusetts continue to try to cope with Wednesday's tornadoes.

In the town of Monson, a tornado tore down Main Street, destroying businesses, knocking down trees, breaking windows, even ripping the steeple off the church.

But one of the most powerful things to see in Monson on Thursday, as people began to sort through the wreckage, was just down the road in the neighborhood of Bethany. It had taken an especially hard hit, and it's where the community was coming together to help.

For most of the day, Bethany Road was closed to traffic as crews worked to cut the fallen power lines and clear the trees that littered the road. So we found ourselves walking from one end of Bethany to the other, and hearing the stories along the way.

Like the story of the group of teenagers who had shown up to help 17-year-old Jordan Whitemore clear the front yard of his family's home.

Joe Yarbrough, 12, tosses a jacket to his mom, Laura, as they salvage belongings from their home. (AP)
Joe Yarbrough, 12, tosses a jacket to his mom, Laura, as they salvage belongings from their home. (AP)

"My cousin Brad's over there, he's from Ware," Woodimore pointed out as he took a short break. "He's my only cousin here right now, but my longtime friend and neighbor was over here before, and also my longtime two friends over there have been helping."

Just a couple doors down we found Tina Partlow, with her husband Corey, sitting in their driveway in the bottom half of what used to be a camper.

Next to them, their mint green house with its pink door was just a shell, like a house on a movie set, where there's a facade, but nothing else behind it. And the roof, well, it was in the front lawn. So was much of their living room.

A team of young men who had shown up to help were sorting through the rubble in the backyard and carrying to the front some lamps and chairs and other odds and ends that could be salvaged.

Tina had been inside the house when the tornado hit. "It was horrible, it just sounded like a jet engine screaming and rolling thunder all at the same time," she said.

The tornado came with almost no warning, she said, giving her and her three teenage boys just enough time to find shelter in the basement. "I basically looked up, I saw a black cloud coming from that direction over there," she said, pointing up at the hill above the house, "and we just kind of all ran all at the same time."

Corey was on his way home from Dudley, oblivious to what he would find when he got there.

"It was pretty devastating. It'll never be the same, but maybe after 10 more years we’ll make it feel like home again.”

Corey Partlow

"It was pretty devastating," he said. "It's an old house, a lot of these are old houses, which means when you buy them you put a lot of your own paint and work in. We made a lot of changes in 10 years and made it really personal and really our own. So it'll never be the same, but maybe after 10 more years we'll make it feel like home again."

One of the Partlow's cats is still missing. Tina worries they might find him as they clear the wreckage in their backyard.

Just across the street from the Partlow's was one of the most striking scenes of the day. Where Pia Rogers' house had stood, there was now nothing but a cellar door and the granite foundation the house was built on. Nothing else.

"Nothing," Rogers said. "Nothing."

Most of what used to be Rogers' house could be seen in a pile in her neighbor's yard.

But a very small part of it turned up 80 miles away. Rogers said she received a call from a man in Milton who found a packet of her checks in his front yard. The story has traveled after Rogers told Gov. Deval Patrick when he toured Bethany Road earlier in the day and he repeated it to reporters.

Rogers was at her coffee shop in Sturbridge when the tornado hit. The police called to alert her to a "problem" at her house. "There's no problem," Rogers laughed, "it's completely gone!"

Rogers was watching as her neighbors cleaned up, but was at a loss for where to begin. "Where do we clean up?" she asked. "What do we clean up? It's just craziness."

It was striking to see Rogers laugh and crack jokes as she stood just feet from where her house had stood hours before. "It could be worse," she said. "We're fine. It's just stuff."

Undoubtedly, most of the hard stuff is still ahead for Rogers and her neighbors on Bethany Road in Monson. The loss of their homes and belongings had just begun to sink in Thursday — or still hadn't.

Next will come all the logistics, and the realization of just how much is gone and isn't likely to come back. But if they have the same spirit that they had Thursday, and the same sense of community, they're going to be fine. After all, "it's just stuff."

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This program aired on June 3, 2011.

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