This is New England.
Crippling ice storms?
Par for the course.
Devastating spring floods?
Republicans elected to Senate?
Once in a blue moon.
Yankee fans in Red Sox Nation?
Not if they value their lives.
Tornadoes in Massachusetts?
Yesterday, Dave and I slogged through a hazy, hot and humid morning, waiting for the cold front to move in so we could breathe. Around 3, the skies opened up, and rain fell by the bucketloads.
He came in out of the rain and switched on the afternoon Red Sox game, rescheduled so Bruins fans would not miss last night's Stanley Cup game. A little after 4, all hell broke loose.
First, an Emergency Alert System message took over the television, warning that tornadoes were in the area and may have touched down. A similar message was beeping on radio and when I looked at my Blackberry, there it was on my default browser. Since we live in a second-floor apartment, we weren’t sure what to do, so we waited for more information.
We actually have three television network affiliates based in Springfield, the only real city for miles around. It’s 45 miles to our south. We also rely on New England Cable News out of Boston, which will go outside the city once in a while to cover something big. And, they did!
All four news operations took over the afternoon and evening schedule, giving minute-by-minute reports on tornadic activity, hail, severe lightning strikes, damage, emergency shelters, road closings and the like. Reporters who have gotten comfortable reading scripts from behind desks were forced to perform real public service under all-but battlefield conditions. Those in the field had to race out in torrential rain, wind and lightning, to small towns that are hard to find on a good day. Since so many roads were closed, some crews had to hike in while the storm was in progress.
At least 19 towns took damage from the tornadoes, including the city of Springfield. A woman was hit by lightning up by us, and so were barns and buildings scattered around our county. To our north and south, tornadoes were popping up, dancing over the interstate, picking up water from the Connecticut River and dumping it wherever it wanted. One minute those rotating cells were visible, the next they showed up only on meteorologists’ Doppler-radar scanners.
When the tornado warnings were issued, many people seemed more curious than anything, at least until they saw their neighbor’s roof flying toward their head. Some ran outside to photograph the twister on cell phones. Others saved their lives under staircases and in cellars. One woman heeded the warning by climbing into her bathtub, then got out to retrieve her pet fish and barely made it back in time. Plenty of people sat in their cars to watch funnel clouds cross the road in front of them. Some ended up upside down. At least one ended up dead. Since it hit at the end of a school day and shift change, many people were on the road, hurrying home to safety. What they didn't know was, there was no safe place.
I guess we were due a major hit in this part of the country. I mean, New England is one of the safest places to live if you want to avoid natural disasters. We rarely have earthquakes, and when we do, they’re small. Forest fires could be a problem, but we plenty of rain to curb that possibility. We’re too far inland for hurricanes to hit with full force, although they sometimes sneak in through Connecticut. I suppose our biggest natural threat is the much-hated Black Fly.
At last count, there are at least four people dead, many left homeless, streets blocked, businesses and schools closed, cars, trucks and buses totaled, power out in many areas, hundreds injured. Whole forests were reduced to rubble. Road surfaces were ripped off, leaving some neighborhoods unrecognizable.
Aside from Springfield, this is a sparsely populated area. Four is a big number here. True, this tornado did not kill as many people as did the one in Joplin, but it was a very big wake-up call to a state that’s usually on the giving -- and not the asking -- end of disaster relief. Gov. Patrick was out here in a flash last night, promising search and rescue teams and other emergency services. Sen. Kerry promises federal aid, and I don’t expect a poor city like Springfield to be too proud to accept it. Nor will the dozens of small towns throughout western Massachusetts and southern Vermont that saw damage.
Tornadoes in Massachusetts? Never say never,
Strangely, what happened yesterday in our state tied us in a new way to the other 49. I just hope that storm buys us another 100 years of peace and quiet around here. Let’s not stir up the flies any more than necessary.