By BEN FORER and MICHAEL S. JAMES
June 1, 2011
Multiple tornadoes slammed Massachusetts, destroying buildings, flipping vehicles and leaving at least four people dead.
The Massachusetts twisters hit as unstable weather threatened the entire Northeast, bringing tornado watches to Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
The situation in western and central Massachusetts was so bad that Gov. Deval Patrick declared a statewide state of emergency, calling up 1,000 members of the National Guard.
Two of the four fatalities in Massachusetts occurred in Westfield, and there was one each in West Springfield and Brimfield, officials said.
Two tornado touchdowns were confirmed -- one in the Springfield area and a larger one in the Westfield area, Patrick said.
ABC News Boston affiliate WCVB earlier reported additional tornadoes confirmed in the Massachusetts communities of Wilbraham, Monson and Oxford.
Patrick said at least 19 Massachusetts communities were affected by the twisters.
"Motorists should be off the roads," Patrick said. "There are downed limbs, downed wires. We have reports of as many as 26,000 people without electrical service. There may be and likely [will] be more before this is all over."
One tornado ripped through downtown Springfield, Mass., and into its suburbs around 4:35 p.m. today, knocking down trees and destroying buildings. There were reports of injures and people trapped by debris in the city of about 150,000 residents 90 miles west of Boston.
Baystate Medical Center in Springfield was treating numerous injured people, some with serious force trauma injuries, spokeswoman Jane Albert told The Associated Press.
Roads were impassable in the hardest-hit areas and people were stuck in their cars because of downed power lines, state police said. Rescue operations were underway citywide.
Cameras on buildings trained on the western part of Springfield showed broken trees, roof damage and overturned trucks. All police units were responding to the downtown area.
Video and pictures of apparent tornadoes in Springfield and elsewhere in western Massachusetts showed funnel clouds, swirling winds and debris flying through the air.
Betsy Hogan was on Springfield's Memorial Bridge when the tornado hit.
"I was at the halfway mark on the bridge and the tractor trailer in front of me flipped right over," she told WGGB. "I'm still shaking. ... Once that tractor trailer went I thought I was going to go too.
"Trees were down all over the place on Memorial and windows were blown out," she added.
Cassie Moore also was stuck on the bridge to West Springfield and sheltered the driver of the overturned truck in her compact car.
"It was the most frightening thing of my life," she told WGGB.
"The truck just started shaking and blew right over on its side," Moore said. "My little ... Honda Civic was just shaking and shaking and I thought, 'If this truck is going to be blown over, I'm going to go in the river.'"
Louis Vega hustled diners to the center of the restaurant where he works in Springfield just as the storm blew in.
"No sooner than I ran back in the restaurant and warned everybody the tornado was coming it just hit like that," he said. "Windows started breaking, trees started coming down, roofs started coming off and it's pretty scary."
West Springfield Tornado Damage: 'Like King Kong Took a Walk'
Skip Hynd described the scene across the river on Main Street in West Springfield, Mass.
"It looked like King Kong took a walk through there," he said. "Every side street is just about impassable."
In Westfield, Mass., downed trees marked the twister's path.
"There's a lot of trees down in Westfield," said Jim Wiggs of Westfield Emergency Management. "We do have a missing part of the roof of a school. There's property damage up in the eastern part of the city. There's some property damage. We're still receiving some reports of trees falling on houses and power lines down throughout the city. It's an absolute, its a mess."
There have been an average of two tornadoes per year in Massachusetts since 1950, though none since 2008, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The last fatalities from a tornado in the state were in 1995, when three died and 24 were injured by an EF4 tornado.