Mourning, Coping & Cleaning Up After Deadly Tornadoes Shake Western Mass.
SPRINGFIELD (CBS/AP) – Late Thursday night, work crews were out finishing the job that tornadoes started the previous day.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Deval Patrick toured the extensive tornado damage in western Massachusetts and said “it’s a mess.”
Four people were killed in the twisters that hit western and central Massachusetts Wednesday afternoon. Two died in West Springfield, one in Springfield and one in Brimfield.
They are the state’s first tornado-related deaths in 16 years.
According to Governor Patrick, one of the people who died in West Springfield, Angelica Guerrero was in the bath tub covering the 15-year-old with her own body when the house came down on top of them. Guerrero was crushed and killed. The girl suffered severe leg lacerations.
Sergey Livchin also died in West Springfield when his van was crushed by a falling tree. Police said the 23-year-old died a short distance from his home and only about 2 blocks from the Guerreros.
Livchin’s cousin, Alex Livchin, said Sergey was born in Russia and moved to the United States with his family about 16 years ago. He said Sergey worked in the warehouse of an envelope company.
“He’s a good guy,” he said.
Alex Livchin said other relatives were too upset to talk about Livchin’s death.
Virginia Darlow was also killed. She staying at the Village Green Family Campground in Brimfield when her camper was tossed 30 feet, turned upside down in the air and dropped onto its roof.
The fourth victim has not been identified.
The National Weather Service has confirmed at least three tornadoes touched down.
“When you see the scope of the damage, it is a wonder that there haven’t been more fatalities,” the governor told WBZ-TV.
WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes reports on the damage and the heroic act of one of the victims
For example, the governor says 88 structures in West Springfield, 35 in Springfield and 77 in Monson are considered total losses.
WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager reports on the clean-up
Residents spent the day picking through the rubble, looking to grab anything worth salvaging.
And by Thursday night, heavy machines were tearing down many of those buildings.
The scenes had many people promising to rebuild.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon after touring the damage in Brimfield, Patrick said the search and rescue has been completed and no one else is believed to be missing. The mission now will turn to assessment and recovery.
Watch the governor’s news conference
State officials say 18 communities sustained serious damage from the tornadoes: Agawam, Auburn, Brimfield, Chicopee, Douglas, Millbury, Monson, Northampton, Oxford, Palmer, Springfield, Southbridge, Sturbridge, Uxbridge, West Springfield, Westfield, Wilbraham and Westover Air Force Base.
Patrick declared a State of Emergency and activated 1,000 members of the National Guard Wednesday.
The governor reduced the emergency to four counties Thursday afternoon: Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin.
Springfield’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was not damaged in the storm, and its parking lot was being used as a state police command post.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Mark Katic reports
About 40,000 homes and business in western Massachusetts were still without power early Thursday afternoon. 25,000 of them are National Grid customers, 14,000 are with Western Massachusetts Electric Co.
About 300 people spent the night at the Mass Mutual Center, many of them families.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told WBZ-TV about 40 people were seriously hurt in his city, while hundreds more have “bumps and bruises.”
Massachusetts public health officials say about 200 people have sought treatment for a variety of storm-related injuries, and a Springfield regional trauma center says at least three have injuries so severe they may need long-term rehabilitation.
“Under the circumstances, it’s a blessing that there haven’t been more people hurt,” Gov. Patrick said.
He told reporters that a woman in Monson told him that her checkbook register was lost in the tornado and was later recovered in Milton, about 90 miles away, where the governor lives in the eastern part of the state.
Gov. Patrick talks to WBZ-TV’s Sera Congi
Patrick said the tornadoes came so fast, Sarno told him he only had 10 minutes to prepare for it.
But in many cases, doing the right thing — quickly — helped save lives.
Karen Irla, 50, was leaving Adams Hometown Market in the picturesque village of Monson when she heard children on their bicycles yelling, “Look at that tornado!”
“I screamed and I screamed and I screamed, and that’s why I have no voice today,” said Irla, who went against experts’ recommendations by getting in her car. She made it to a nearby senior center and waited until the storm passed.
Inside the market, produce manager Frank Calabrese made a quick decision that helped keep customers and employees from coming to harm.
In a move recalling a famous video from the recent deadly tornado in Missouri that documented shoppers’ terrifying moments inside a convenience store cooler, Calabrese herded them into a walk-in freezer, where six to eight endless minutes passed while the building shook and windows shattered.
“What else are were going to do?” he said. “We sat inside and waited it out.” No one in the store suffered a scratch.
The storms hit as many people headed home from work Wednesday, paralyzing motorists who could see the twister coming at them.
Michael Valentin, 29, said he was eating at a soup kitchen near downtown when he started hearing thunder and went outside.
“All this was chaos,” he said. “It was like a mad wind twisting. It was destroying everything. Cars were being smashed against walls. Pieces of wood and trees were flying in the air.”
Debbie Perkins, 30, was filling up a small backyard swimming pool for some children when they spotted the funnel. They ran into the home and huddled in the basement.
“The kids, they were all screaming and crying,” Perkins said. Unlike many of her neighbors, she escaped without damage to her home.
Among the injured in Springfield was a prosecutor struck in the head by debris while walking to her car; she is expected to survive, but her name was not released.
The Hampden County district attorney, Mark Mastroianni, said he barely escaped injury himself when plate glass windows shattered and blew into his office and a conference room.
“People started to scream, `Get away from the windows,’ and as I was just turning to run, the glass window just came flying in,” he said.
“We’re going to rebuild and we’re going to rebuild together, because we’re all in this together,” Governor Patrick said. “We will get through it.”
Gov. Patrick talks to WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Carl Stevens
Patrick took a helicopter tour of the area on Thursday along with U.S. Sens John Kerry and Scott Brown.
Brown said the scope of the damage was hard to believe and the key now is taking care of residents.
The governor had a message for the victims of the storm. “You are not alone,” he told them.
Sen. Brown talks to WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Carl Stevens
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 are already in the region assessing damage.
Kerry says the hardest hit area looks like a “blast zone.”
He told reporters that damage assessments at this point are in the tens of millions of dollars.
Massachusetts hasn’t experienced a tornado since 2008, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
The last killer tornado in Massachusetts was on May 29, 1995, when three people died in Great Barrington, a town along the New York state border.
The state’s deadliest recorded tornado on June 9, 1953, killed 94 people in the Worcester area.
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)