MONSON (CBS) – It was rare, but deadly. One year ago, June 1, 2011, a series of tornadoes swept through Central and Western Massachusetts killing three and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The small town of Monson is still trying to recover.
“I am extremely lucky to be alive,” says Miranda Phipps. She and her sisters Merissia and Montana were in their Monson home when the tornado swept through the town. “I was scared. I didn’t know what to think,” says Merissia. The tornado came right at their house. “It’s like all the color got sucked up by blackness,” remembers Miranda.
The sisters took cover in the basement as their house came apart. “It felt like everything was screaming. The wood, the furniture, everything was screaming,” says Miranda. “I didn’t know how much of the house was gone,” says Merissia. It was all gone, wiped out. “Our neighbors came and found us, and they helped us out,” says Miranda.
As the tornado moved through Monson it uprooted massive trees, destroyed buildings, and left the community reeling. When you visit the town today, the first thing you notice is the path of the storm which looks like a giant scar across the landscape. There are plenty of buildings that are still boarded up. About 200 houses were damaged or destroyed by the tornado. But you also see the new homes that have been rebuilt or repaired. “We as a community decided, yeah it’s bad, but it’s not going to knock us down. We’re strong,” says Lori Stacy who is part of the town’s recovery team.
She says Monson has come back about half way in the first year, but accuses some insurance companies with hurting instead of helping. “There is not one resident in this town that asked for a tornado to come and destroy their home, but they’re treated as though it’s something they’ve done wrong,” she says. “It seems in a lot of cases with many of the insurance companies it’s to make it harder, to make you jump through a few more hoops,” she adds.
Faced with the daunting aftermath of the tornado, hundreds of volunteers have made the difference in Monson. Wendy Deshais who lives in Palmer, pitched in from day one. “We found out what homeowners needed and we found out what skills the volunteers had and we matched the homeowners with the help that was coming into town,” she says. “It’s been a great experience for me and I want to continue helping until the end, until everybody in Monson is back in their homes,” she adds.
It’s going to take another two or three years before Monson is completely back to normal, but you can hear the sounds of hammers and saws all over the place, and volunteers recently planted 175 new trees.