A tornado? It could never happen here! Afterall, we are in the valley of hills and mountains, not broad, flat Kansas. That’s what most residents of western Massachusetts would have said to you before June 1, 2011, the day a destructive tornado ripped through this area. It touched down in Westfield, MA sometime after 4pm and ripped a scary path east through West Springfield, Springfield, Wilbraham, Monson and Brimfield. Those are the communities close to me that I know suffered serious damage. My home, family, neighbors and friends were unharmed, and as far as I know, did not suffer any damage to their property. We are the lucky ones and I am grateful to whoever or whatever it was who watched out for us. I chose not to take pictures, or share others’ pictures of the destruction in this area. If you are interested, just Google “Springfield MA tornado” and there will be plenty of sites for you to see. I haven’t visited sites of destruction in person myself, so at this time it still feels a bit unreal.
My day on Wednesday started out like any other. I went to work with the plan of leaving one hour early to pick Meghan up from school. It was the day of her boyfriend’s senior prom. A girlfriend of mine was going to do her hair. We had heard about the possibility for strong thunderstorms that afternoon and hoped they would pass by in time for us to take pictures outside. Around 3:45, the skies darkened and the temperature and the pressure in the air seemed to change. At 4:00, Meghan was applying make-up and getting dressed for her big night.
At 4:15, a wicked thunderstorm with marble-sized hail started pelting this area. Not to worry, I soothed, thunderstorms usually pass quickly! With a big umbrella over her head, held by my husband, we ran to the car to drive to her boyfriend’s house where the limo would deliver my daughter, her boyfriend and four other couples to their prom – in downtown Springfield.
We arrived at her boyfriend’s house and his dad had a huge golf umbrella for escorting the girls out of their cars. The kids murmured with excitement about the night, exchanged corsages and boutonnieres, and hoped the rain would stop soon. The skies cleared around 5pm so we headed outside to take pictures and wait for the limo to arrive. Firetrucks, police cars and ambulances from our town and surrounding towns were racing down Main St. We thought there must have been a terrible accident due to the viscious thunderstorm that had just passed. The power was out in town so we hadn’t seen or heard what was happening around us.
The limo driver arrived, about 25 minutes late, and explained that he had seen a tornado touch down in Westfield (about 35 minutes west of Wilbraham). He didn’t have any other information, and neither did we, as the kids happily piled into their limo.
And off we sent our children, in a limosine, to have their prom, in an area of the city that we had no idea had recently been struck by a tornado. The building where the prom was held was the Mass Mutual Center, a sturdy, recently rebuilt public arena, which also ended up being one of the shelters in the area for people whose homes suffered damage from the storm. But the prom went on. Prom 2011 will surely be one these kids will remember for their whole lives.
When I arrived home, I still had no idea about the power of this storm or what actually had happened. Our home phone service and power to our house was out and cell service was spotty. We pieced together bits of information from the radio and text messages we received over the course of the night. It was quite a long night, sitting in the dark, wondering how the kids were and worrying about them getting home. Around 7pm, I watched as the sky turned a scary shade of yellowish-green and the winds and rains kicked up again. I didn’t think to grab my camera at the time. I’ve heard that episode was a microburst from the original tornado.
Luckily, the kids were returned safely after the prom, and we sat throughout the next day hearing more and more about the destruction that took place, but still without power. I received text messages and the occasional phone call from family and friends checking on us and passing on information. Last night our power came back on, and shortly after, cable and internet services were restored. I know that many in the area are still without, and I am again thankful and feeling very lucky. Booting up the computer this morning, I found emails from still more friends checking in on us.
If you were to come look around my yard, you would never know that a tornado screamed through this area maybe a mile away. There are sticks around the yard,
and flowers that look a little worse for wear,
but that happens after virtually every rain storm. My husband had been working on cleaning our pool, shortly before all this began, and the aluminum pole he was using remains exactly where he left it:
For strange reasons, perhaps known only to me, it is the little things like this that make this reality so strangely unreal feeling for me. But I know that it is, of course, very real for the thousands of people who suffered in one way or another. We are tough New Englanders, and this area will get back on its feet. Businesses of many kinds are offering their help, as well as the American Red Cross, and people are helping their neighbors. To anyone from this area who was affected who may be reading this, please know that my thoughts are with you and I hope that your struggles are minimal, and that you have the love and support of family and good friends.