Tornado ‘Touched Down With A Vengeance’ In Conway

CONWAY (CBS) — A small town in western Massachusetts is recovering after an EF-1 tornado cut a path of destruction through it Saturday night, destroying a barn, severely damaging several houses, and ripping apart hundreds of trees.

It was the first-ever tornado to touch down in the Bay State in February.

An aerial view of the tornado damage in Conway Monday morning. (WBZ-TV)

An aerial view of the tornado damage in Conway Monday morning. (WBZ-TV)

In Conway, which has a population of less than 2,000 and sits west of I-91 in Franklin County, a state of emergency was still in effect Monday.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito inspected the damage and recovery efforts along with Mass. Emergency Management Association Monday afternoon.

“Being a small town with a five million dollar budget, less than 2,000 people, they obviously have limited resources,” Lt. Gov. Polito said, speaking about additional financial aid to help Conway and its residents rebuild.

The owner of a destroyed barn, who lives in a house next to it on Whately Road, told WBZ-TV’s Christina Hager that he and his wife had returned from Boston about 20 minutes before the tornado hit.

John Maggs said they talked about going into the barn, where they run a furniture restoration business, but decided to stay in the home and have a drink first–a decision that may have saved their lives.

He watched the historic barn being taken down by heavy equipment Monday.

“You can see the remnants of a few 17th century pieces in there. Those are destroyed,” Maggs told WBZ.

Another resident who lives up the street was having a dinner party with eight guests Saturday when the tornado hit, taking down the entire side of her house.

“It was amazing that this happened on a night when we were having a party, so we were in the new part,” Jeanne Thomas said.

She said guests knew something was wrong when they heard a strange whistling noise, and moved away from the windows–and then they heard a huge crash.

An aerial view of the tornado damage in Conway Monday morning. (WBZ-TV)

An aerial view of the tornado damage in Conway Monday morning. (WBZ-TV)

“That was the living room/TV room, we often sit in there at night,” she said, pointing to her home. “That’s a bedroom, my husband often goes up at night and lays on the bed and reads by the light, and you can see that the ceiling collapsed on the bed, if he had been in it he’d be dead, probably.”

Debris and fallen trees still littered many roads and yards in Conway Monday.

Conway’s police chief said it’s amazing no one was killed by the tornado.

“Miraculous, really is miraculous. You know, behind us here up on the hill, it’s not so visible. There’s a swath of trees that were just leveled. Right behind those trees are three residences and the winds didn’t bother those homes at all,” he said.

The National Weather Service in Taunton said the tornado touched down in a small portion of Goshen, then lifted for several miles and touched down in Conway. There, it reached speeds of up to 110 mph, and had a path that varied from 50 to 200 yards.

It left a path of destruction about five miles long.

Watch: Danielle Niles Reports On Tornado Details

In a report, National Weather Service surveyors said the twister “touched down with a vengeance” in western Conway near Main Poland Road, in some cases snapping thick pine trees in half.

It touched down around 7:18 p.m. and was gone by 7:25 p.m.

Conway Fire Chief Robert Baker told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker the twister was on the ground for about 5 minutes in Conway.

“It ripped down over the hill, and slammed into the church and a bunch of houses,” he said. “It destroyed six homes, and damaged about another dozen.”

All six homes are now listed as uninhabitable.

Chief Baker said he didn’t think there would be as much damage from the storm, but that the destruction in a part of town called Pumpkin Hollow, just south of Route 116, was intense.

Along Whately Road, which runs up to Route 116, there were trees down; a church was also damaged from the storm.

A tornado damaged the roof of a church in Conway, Mass. (Photo credit: Eversource)

A tornado damaged the roof of a church in Conway, Mass. (Photo credit: Eversource)

One person was injured due to a tree falling on a home–but thankfully, his injuries were minor.

“One gentleman at the house that was destroyed the most, him and his wife were trapped on the second story for a few minutes, and he had minor injuries to one of his arms,” Baker said.

Heidi Flanders lives about 100 yards from the tornado’s path.

“It sounded like wind and rain really loud, and a train coming right through my yard,” she said.

Her house was okay, but there was a lot of other damage and trees brought down wires, littering her driveway with debris.

Flanders said she was surprised a tornado touched down near her house, considering it’s February and tornadoes weren’t in the forecast.

“My dog was going crazy, running back and forth across the house, and we were trying to figure out what was wrong with him,” she said. “But it just showed severe thunderstorms.”

A local school is closed today, while high school students, who attend a regional school, have an excused absence.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ben Parker reports

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