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Springfield Residents Shift From Shock To Recovery04:03
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The shock from tornadoes that cut paths of destruction through Monson, Brimfield, Westfield and Springfield is yielding to the demands of recovery. Utility crews are hoisting new poles and power lines, tree removal crews are working around the clock and buildings that can’t be restored are slated for demolition. In Springfield, public officials are beginning to tally their losses.

Dennis Leger, with the Springfield Fire Department, threads his red and white SUV past a police blockade onto Main Street.

"This is the downtown business district," Leger says, describing the scene. "You can see these buildings on the right, all the windows are blown out. This yellow brick building is in danger of imminent collapse. The South End Community Center over there, the roof is gone, do you see that?"

A basketball hoop and the net of a boxing ring is visible between the rafters of the popular center. Leger pulls to the curb and gets out. He says all the buildings in this eight-block stretch of Main Street are off-limits, but even those in danger of collapse are searched twice for injured residents.

"It’s kind of sad, these old buildings have a lot of charm. If these get torn down and rebuilt, it’s not going to be the same."

Dennis Lager, Springfield Fire Department

"The first time they did a quick search, the second time a very thorough search," he says. "In a building like this they didn’t want to send people in, so they sent dogs in. You can see right through the roof on that one, it’s gone."

Leger gazes down the street he’s walked many times in his 56 years.

"It’s kind of sad, I mean, these old buildings have a lot of charm. If these get torn down and rebuilt, it’s not going to be the same," Leger says, shaking his head.

Demolition is well underway in Springfield. A three-story apartment just behind Main Street was one of the first to go.

"They had to go tear down the house, 'cause it was falling apart," says tornado survivor Dixie Cruz.

Cruz huddled in a basement corner with her husband, children and 18 other friends and relatives Wednesday afternoon as the building that held all her family’s belongings collapsed above them.

"We couldn’t get out whatsoever," Cruz says, punching out each word. "The wall like broke, and that’s the only way we got out, through the side of the house. Couldn’t grab medications, couldn’t grab IDs, insurance card, nothing. Everything’s gone."

The Cruz family spent Wednesday night at the MassMutual Center. On Thursday they, and more than 200 other residents whose homes were shattered by wind and flying debris, moved to a community center gym staffed by the Red Cross. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says the city is helping these residents find temporary and more permanent housing.

"Springfield is a resolute city," Sarno says with pride. "We’re all working on this together, and I’ll tell you, adversity builds character. There is plenty of character in the city of Springfield."

In the next day or two, Sarno, working with the state, expects to open a one-stop center for businesses and residents who suffered losses in the storm.

"That was an enclosed porch and the garage is just about to fall down," Kathleen Murphy says as she begins her list of damages while friends eat pizza and help drag debris away from Murphy's house and pool.

Kathleen Murphy is a Springfield resident whose home suffered substantial damage but is still habitable. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)
Kathleen Murphy is a Springfield resident whose home suffered substantial damage but is still habitable. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

"And that’s my neighbor’s shed in the back yard," she continues. "I says to the neighbor, 'Do you mind getting your shed out of my backyard? My son wanted to go swimming when he got home.' She didn’t think that was funny. I thought it was funny," Murphy giggles.

Murphy is one of many in Springfield and neighboring communities who are counting their blessings as well as their losses. No one in Murphy’s family was hurt and the tornado left half of Murphy’s house untouched, unlike one of her neighbors.

"I feel bad for one kid," Murphy says. "He said he went down to his cellar and covered up his head. When he thought it was OK to look, he looked up and his house was gone. And his truck was about two houses down flipped over."

The state will submit an estimated total for all the crushed cars, shredded homes, businesses that can’t open and cleanup costs to the federal government in a bid for disaster relief. There’s no official estimate yet, but leaders shrug and say it will be many, many millions of dollars.

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This program aired on June 3, 2011.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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