It was a year ago that a tornado devastated western Massachusetts. The lives of many western Mass families were literally uprooted, left homeless, and were forced to rebuild.
As we approach the anniversary of that tragic day, ceremonies are scheduled, politicians survey the progress of the recovery, and people begin their return to some semblance of normalcy.
Prior to becoming a REALTOR®, I was a disaster relief home inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I had witnessed the destruction of natural disasters before, but mostly those caused by hurricanes in the coastal communities of Louisiana. I had never seen the magnitude of destruction caused by the June 1 tornado nor have I witnessed the level of community support for those in need in the days that followed.
One of those going above and beyond to help out was a fellow REALTOR®, who helped those left homeless by the tornado find temporary housing. Another inspirational example of volunteerism can be found with group of police officers and others who started the Chainsaw Response Team to help clean debris.
On the day following the disastrous weather event, I went to town of Monson, just one of many communities devastated by the tornado, to survey the damage and speak to those who experienced it. The following is a portion of an article that I wrote and one of the videos that I produced following that visit. A wide path of torn down trees identified the path of the F3 tornado as it ripped through the center of town from the west to the east. I spoke to people who lived on both sides of town.
Geralynn Laferriere was in her home on Ely Road on the west side of town when the tornado struck. “I just heard it picking up faster and faster and just hearing tree limbs going across my windows, then I heard windows crashing,” said Laferriere. A home which had been surrounded by trees is now open space. Fortunately, the only tree that struck her home hit her porch.
Laferriere’s neighbor wasn’t so lucky. Trucks were still removing trees that fell around his house and on top of it when I spoke to him. “It was like a freight train coming,” he said. He was on his porch when he saw the debris cloud coming over the hill—taking down trees as it did—and ran down to the basement. “The house shook so much; the water came out of the toilet and splashed on the wall. There was no water left in the toilet,” he said.
Margaret Parker’s home on High Street had a large tree leaning up against it when I spoke to her about her experience. Her home is located across the street from the First Church of Monson. “We had heard the warning, so we had gone down (to the basement)…we heard the wind…the house shook at one point, but that must have been when the tree fell on it,” said Parker. Main Street further south was blocked off to cars and pedestrians as utility crews worked to restore power resulting from damaged power lines.
Many homes were also destroyed on Stewart Street, located on the eastern side of the town’s center. Laura Yarbrough, her 12-year-old son, and her dog were in their basement as the tornado tore their home apart. When I spoke to Yarbrough, she was looking through what was left of her home. “I could hear everything whooping around,” she said. Yarbrough put her son under the stairwell in the basement when her water main broke and her furnace flipped over. After it was all over, Yarbrough saw light and got her son out. It wasn’t until the next day that search and rescue retrieved her dog, which was also fine.
While Yarbrough’s basement is completely covered by a pile of debris that was once her home, the home next door was flipped upside down completely revealing what was once its foundation.
Up the road from Yarbrough, three teenage girls were home alone on Stewart Street when the tornado struck their home destroying it. Montana Phipps, the youngest of the three sisters at 14, said she received a text from a friend letting her know about the tornado. “I was in my room just relaxing, so I looked down and I saw a tornado…it was like a train coming over the house,” she said. She also said that she peaked as the house was being lifted up off its foundation. An update of the Phipps’ story was recently included in an article by a Masslive.com.
Video of my interview with Yarbrough and the Phipps family.
Behind the Phipps’ home the path of torn down trees indicates the path of the tornado as it continued over the hill. Further east, workers were clearing Country Road and East Hill Road. On East Hill Road several roofs were torn off of homes with more destruction caused by fallen trees.
Governor Deval Patrick, United States Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, State Senator Stephen Brewer, State Representatives Brian Ashe and Todd Smola also visited Monson to survey the damage.
“We will overcome this,” said Senator Brewer who encouraged that those who were not affected by the tornado to help their neighbors.
“It’s amazing how quick all the agencies came together to support each other…it is absolutely amazing,” said Representative Ashe.
And it continues to be absolutely amazing one year later.