Western Mass. Still Recovering From Tornadoes One Year Later
BOSTON (CBS) – It has been one full year since tornadoes tore across Western and Central Massachusetts, causing significant damage in Springfield, Brimfield, Monson and several other areas.
WBZ-TV’s Joe Joyce reports.
One of the communities hit the hardest by the tornadoes that struck central and western Massachusetts was the city of Springfield.
Photos: June 2011 Tornado
A year later, city officials are using the tornado recovery as a way of revitalizing the city.
“It was a war zone down here,” says Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno. “Buildings ripped in half and shredded, homes the same way.”
Life changed for thousands as the rare, killer tornado hit.
“It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of scary things in my life,” says James Perkins, a city resident.
For those of us not in its path, the extent of the mayhem left us wide-eyed and breathless, and the aftermath in Springfield is still all too stark.
Some houses are still boarded up and crumbling and some businesses are empty, but you also see the renewal.
Buildings and homes have been repaired or rebuilt, because Springfield has come a long way in the last year.
“I had a big old tree right here and that tree was sitting on top of my house,” says Dolores Culp.
Her house has been repaired and so are the others on her Springfield street.
“It looks like a new development. Everybody’s been working, trying to get their home together,” she says.
Springfield’s mayor says the city is working beyond the disaster by crafting a plan to repair the tornado damage and revitalize the entire community.
“When people thought we were against the ropes, the haymaker was coming, time to turn out the lights in the city of Springfield, the exact opposite occurred,” says Mayor Sarno.
But it’s not all smooth.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones spoke to local business owners in Springfield that are very determined to see the recovery through:
Dave’s Furniture reopened in the city’s South End neighborhood just a month ago, but the tornado displaced many of their customers, and ongoing construction makes it tough for shoppers.
“I believe it’s going to be a long road. I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight fix,” says Linda Guidetti, the manager of the furniture store.
Springfield also faces a hundred-million-dollar rebuilding price tag, and Mayor Sarno says the feds are tying them up in red tape.
“We’re following the process, but we need FEMA to really come across with the money in a much quicker fashion,” he says.
The city is looking at at least another three years of recovery.
“I’m thankful for being alive and seeing my neighbors and my family. Who would think Springfield would have a tornado?” says Dolores Culp.
Despite the hard work of so many people in Springfield, there have been those who have taken advantage of the disaster.
The head of a non-profit group helping restore homes tells us a small number of mostly out of state contractors have taken off with insurance money without finishing repairs.
WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports.
It’s hard to imagine the power of the tornado that swept through Monson unless you lived through it.
“It’s like all the color got sucked up by blackness,” said Miranda Phipps of Monson.
Phipps and her sisters where nearly buried in the basement of their Monson home last June.
“It felt like everything was screaming. The wood…the furniture…everything was screaming,” said Phipps. “In that last minute everything….like….exploded.”
“I am extremely lucky to be alive,” she added.
WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano reports from Monson.
Rose Deland, whose King Street home in Monson was in the tornado’s path, has yet to rebuild or even tear down the rotting structure that sits amid the ruins of trees.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Bernice Corpuz reports
Now living in a rental property, she can barely stand to visit the house she’s lived in since she was 15 years old.
“It’s been very emotional, very hard and very depressing,” she said.
A yearlong battle with the insurance company has been difficult, and the family has had trouble retaining a builder until recently.
“We took too long, they said, as far as getting things going. They’re the ones who decide how long it takes,” said her husband Robin.
They’re hoping to finally demolish the home in July, and replace it by November, but Rose Deland says it will never be the same.
“Life as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore, it doesn’t exist. It’s like starting a whole new life,” said Rose.
A tornado hit the town of Brimfield a little after 5 p.m. on June 1, 2011, killing a woman and destroying or damaging more than 100 buildings. Even though the rebuilding is going strong, one year later there’s still a long way to go.
Case in point, the Village Green Campground in Brimfield, wiped out by the storm.
WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports
“It did our half a mile of campground pretty good. Went right through the center of it and took out almost every tree we have, took out a couple of buildings,” says Les Twarowski.
Twaroski and his wife Meg have owned the campground for 19 years. They were there when the storm swept through.
“It sounded like the Air Force coming through,” Les said a year later.
“We ran for the cellar. About 30 seconds later we opened the door and our lives changed,” Meg Twarowski remembered.
Not only was their livelihood destroyed, Ginger Darlow who was staying at the campground, was killed. Her boyfriend was seriously hurt.
“The Winnebago lifted up in the air about 30 feet and spun around a couple times upside down,” says Richard Reim, Darlow’s friend.
The Village Green has since reopened.
WBZ-TV’s Jonathan Elias reports
“We’re working our little tails off to get it back with a lot of help from family, friends, strangers,” says Meg Twarowski.
Soon after the tornado laid part of the town to waste, Brimfield Fire Chief Fred Piechota set up a command center.
“We had people trapped inside their homes in some cases,” he remembers. “The entire forest was lying on the ground. Houses were completely devastated.”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones took a tour with the owner:
Today it’s the remains of the forest that stand out. In several areas of the small town the tornado wiped out trees for miles. The open areas look like an explosion cleared them. But you also see new and rebuilt homes everywhere, rising out of the debris.
“I think many people determined that this is their home, and they will rebuild. Certainly their land is going to be changed forever,” says Chief Piechota.
The work goes on at the Village Green Campground.
“We’ve done about 100 dumpsters, we’ve cut down probably a thousand cord of wood, and we’re still not even close to being done,” says owner Les Twarowski.
But they’re not giving up.
“We have hope, and we’re still alive. That’s a big thing!” says Twarowski.