Tornadoes Hit Western Massachusetts, Kill At Least 4
The damage was enough to cause Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to declare a state of emergency, calling up National Guard troops to help with recovery efforts.
The confirmed deaths occurred in Westfield, West Springfield and Brimfield, all towns centered around a densely populated area.
The first tornado touched down at about 4:30 p.m. local time in Springfield, the third largest city in the state, Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said.
"There was a tornado on the ground and reports of widespread damage in Hampden, Massachusetts, and also reports of damage in Springfield," Vaccaro said.
Much of the damage was in Springfield's South End neighborhood near Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River. Heavy winds could be seen churning the Connecticut River and hail, heavy rain and thunder hammered the area.
A second tornado hit in north Springfield at about 6:20 p.m. local time, authorities said.
The debris and wreckage stretched for an estimated 40 miles according to state officials. They also said up to 19 communities reported damage from the storms, some worse than others.
Monson resident Dolly Opper said state police were setting up roadblocks around the town, and a neighbor described the town's center as "war zone."
"I haven't been home," she said. "The steeple's off the church across the street. It's lying right in the front yard."
At J.T.'s Sports Pub, on Springfield's Main Street, owner Keith Makarowski said he and the 10 or so patrons intially went outside to watch the darkening skies -- then retreated as the storm blew into downtown.
"There was a ton of debris flying around, lots of roof shingles and random siding," Makarowski said. Several century-old buildings were damaged -- "roofs torn off, facades ravaged, trees uprooted" -- and a woman across the street was blown up against a building after being caught outside.
"Luckily, two people from inside the building were able to pull her in, and she seemed like she was OK," Makarowski said.
National weather officials say tornadoes are rare in the northeast, but Massachusetts has an average of two to three per year. The last twister happened in the state in 2008.