Residents and work crews labored through the weekend to clean up areas of central and western Massachusetts damaged by tornadoes last week. The residents of Monson are still in shock, but starting to move on.
The First Church of Monson was open for worship Sunday despite a huge hole in the building, where a tornado mowed down the steeple.
"There’s a lot of things I'd like to go back the way they were. The reality is our community has changed. And will be for generations," said Pastor Bob Marrone.
Marrone’s church looks pretty good from the inside, until you look up at the back corner of the sanctuary.
"Just a word about First Church. You’ve noticed our new décor — the tarp that’s keeping stuff from blowing in — we’ve lost our steeple. But this is OK, First Church has lost its steeple two times before," Marrone said.
"Both times it was put back on — we will put it back on. But not until we take care of other priorities, like taking care of our neighbors."
As Marrone preached to his flock, volunteers took care of neighbors outside the church, neighbors like Chris Lhaewski, who was loading donated cans of tuna and bottled water into her trunk.
"We borrowed a car — we don’t have a car anymore," Lhaewski said.
Searching among the rubble, Daphne Mead found her 12-year-old son’s cat, his baby book, and his teddy bears from when he was little. She hopes to return to work Monday and get back into a routine.
"Was the car was destroyed?" I ask.
"Of course, everything."
Lhaewski’s rental apartment was flattened by the tornado. Without renter’s insurance, there’s no easy way to replace her stuff.
"It’s overwhelming," Lhaewski said.
"So, have you started thinking about what’s next?"
"No…No. My main priority is just, I’m still working. I took time off this weekend. But my main priority now is…I don’t know."
But Lhaewski has friends. She thinks she can stay with different ones while she saves money.
"It’s going to be at least a year," she said, laughing, "because, you know, you work paycheck to paycheck. And everything’s gone. You gotta save up for it. It’s not easy. It’s not like you just whip out a paycheck."
Another resident without renter’s insurance is Mike Roescher.
"No, I unfortunately don’t believe in insuring everything because then you have no money for food. And realistically, what’s the chances of being destroyed by a tornado. But I’ve lost everything and I’m OK with that," Roescher said.
Roescher does worry about his cats. For the past few days, dozens of family members, and even strangers, have carefully picked through the rubble looking for his missing cats. All seven disappeared after the tornado leveled his two-story Victorian.
Roescher slept in a tent next to the ruins, hoping the cats would emerge once the chainsaws quieted down. One by one they’ve come back, or have been rescued from under the foundation. Or, in the case of an orange tabby named Franky, neighbors saw him but couldn’t catch him.
"I set some traps with food, then I heard him meow and I said 'Frankie,' and he jumped into my arms," Roescher said.
Frankie is resting in a cage inside a U-Haul trailer on Roescher’s property.
Roescher said he won’t bring in the bulldozers to clear his property until he finds Rocky, the one cat who remains missing.
Down the street, Daphne Mead doesn’t have the same tenacity. She said this will be her last day sifting through the remains of her apartment, "'cause I’m done!"
"I’ve been here everyday since till dark, picking out stuff from here — I need to start moving on," Mead said.
Mead found her 12-year-old son’s cat, his baby book, and his teddy bears from when he was little.
She hopes to return to work Monday and get back into a routine. Like most people here, she knows nothing will be the same again, but she’s hoping to quickly get to a new normal.
- In Springfield, Residents Shift From Shock To Recovery
- Patrick Scales Back Emergency As Tornado Cleanup Continues
- Facebook Page Helps Tornado-Ravaged Monson
- Live Blog: Mass. Towns Recover From Tornadoes
- Tornado Survivors Happy To Be Alive
- Slideshow: Monson Hit Hard By Tornado
- Tornado Aftermath: Where To Get Help, How To Help
- From The Archives: Worcester Tornado Of ’53 ‘Worse Than War’
- Earlier: Deaths, Extensive Damage After Tornadoes Hit Mass.
This program aired on June 6, 2011.