This story was reported by Nancy Cohen of WNPR.
Tornadoes and Massachusetts are two words that aren’t linked together very often. But a series of tornadoes ripped through western Massachusetts Wednesday afternoon, killing at least three people and leaving many homeless.
Just before 4 p.m. Wednesday, Marisol Mendez, 44, was standing on her porch in the south end of Springfield when she saw a huge black cloud clamp down from above. Her first reaction was to capture it on her cellphone camera. But then she dashed inside into a closet, her hand clutching the doorknob, fighting the wind.
"Everything was shaking," Mendez said. "All the wind was blowing very hard and the building was shaking. The windows and the floor — even our feet. The floor shaking from side to side. So we tried to pull hard [on] the door because the wind was trying to pull the door out of the closet with us inside."
The sun was out on Thursday, but the wind was still blowing. Debris and dust swirled through the air.
"All the wind was blowing very hard, and the building was shaking. The windows and the floor — even our feet. The floor shaking from side to side."Marisol Mendez, tornado survivor
Springfield attorney Laura Marino picked up wooden rafters Thursday that flew from another building and landed on her sidewalk. On Wednesday, when her building began to shake, she took shelter in the basement.
"Within two minutes, which for us lasted an eternity, we came outside and there were people screaming in the streets, branches, trees blowing, cars blown up," Marino said. "I mean it was awful and it happened in two minutes, but it felt like forever."
Marino said she was surprised more people didn’t get hurt. A roof from a nearby building came off.
"We actually saw it fly — it was in the air," Marino said. "It was like 'The Wizard of Oz.'"
Around the corner from Marino’s office, Gov. Deval Patrick picked his way through broken glass, flanked by Sen. John Kerry and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.
One thousand National Guard troops have been deployed. They, along with state and local police, are securing the streets. Workers are cleaning up debris and cutting down hanging tree limbs.
Patrick said it’s a wonder there have only been four fatalities. (A fourth fatality originally attributed to the weather was a cardiac incident in Springfield that may not have been related to the storm.)
"I’m praying it will stay at four fatalities," Patrick said. "Obviously a lot of people have had their lives upside down and we’re going to do everything to help them get back on their feet."
Springfield wasn’t the only place hit. At least three tornadoes tore through the area, lashing through Brimfield, Munroe and West Springfield. Hail the size of golf balls came down on the Mass Pike and as far north as southern Vermont.
In Westfield, Mayor Dan Knapik said the tornado yanked trees out of the ground.
"Trees of just massive size, just knocked over like matchsticks, houses flattened and roads completely impassable," Knapik said. "Dozens and dozens of power poles snapped in half and wires everywhere."
In Springfield, Ricardo Bedinotti, from the Building Department, is trying to make sure electrical wires don’t start any fires.
"In the 24 years of service for Springfield, [I've] never seen this type of disaster before," Bedinotti said. "It's very dangerous. It's very unsafe."
Despite the devastation, Bedinotti is grateful.
"It's miracle all these became safe," Bedinotti said. "It’s a miracle. God looked over the city and protected the people in the city."
But parts of the city are in rubble. And many who survived are shaken and wondering whether they’ll have a place to call home again.
This segment aired on June 2, 2011.