June 3, 2011
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Massachusetts officials are still assessing the damage from multiple tornados that swept through Springfield and eight other communities in the beginning of June. Homeowners are seeking at least $90 million in compensation, according to insurance claims filed thus far. At least 200 buildings were destroyed and four people died during the storms.
Hundreds of windows on Main Street in downtown Springfield were blown out when one of three tornadoes swept through the area. Red bricks and glass pellets covered the ground and electrical wires dangled dangerously above destroyed buildings.
Members of Roca, a program for ex-offenders, move debris left by the tornado that struck downtown Springfield on Thursday. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)
Using bullhorns, police asked gawkers to stay off the street. Most people heeded the warning. Others ignored it and posed for pictures in front of the debris.
Windows casings and chunks of metal lay scattered on the ground in front of a two-story building containing a beauty parlor. When Daniel Roy of ABC Glassworks and his crew arrived, Roy said it was the 20th building they had boarded up in a 24-hour period.
A block away, a construction crew unfurled chains from a crane atop a flat truck. William Arnet, a construction crew chief, said they were there to tear down as many as 30 buildings.
Post office veteran Norm Hemple was out trying to deliver a bag full of letters to addresses that no longer existed. “They’re not letting me up on the streets, so I’m going to have to bring it back I guess. Real nice people down here. But boy it looks pretty bad,” Hemple said.
A man named Dave agreed. He sidestepped a police barrier to survey the damage. He was worried about his favorite Main Street restaurant.
“Red Rose is one of the places I used to go to on Friday night for dinner. Celebrated my 50th birthday there. Been going there for years. When they were a small place. I just shook the owner’s hand and I just hope that he’s able to rebuild,” Dave said.
Employees of the landmark Springfield restaurant were sweeping away glass, nails, roofing, and plastic in what seemed like a hopeless cleanup. But waitress Dawn Hennessey said it looks worse than it is: “I kept getting calls from everyone saying ‘Oh my god, Red Rose’ It’s not that bad.”
The workers promised to be open by Saturday night for dinner.
“Somebody's got to feed the FEMA workers,” said one waiter, as he scooped broken glass into a wheel barrel.
On nearby Howard Street, a dozen young men wearing identical navy blue shirts struggled with a heavy piece of roofing that had flown into the front yard of an alcohol recovery program.
Members of Roca, a program for ex-offenders, pose during a break from their work cleaning up the town of Springfield after it was struck by a tornado.
These workers are part of a program for ex-offenders called Roca. It’s a youth transitional employment program based in Chelsea, Mass. Raymond DeJesus is a Roca supervisor.
“We’re partners with the Sheriffs Department and we were called in this morning to clean the Western Massachusetts Alcohol Center, and that’s what we been doing all day. Picking up this debris and what not,” DeJesus said. Been here for 25 years and the first time I seen anything like this in my life.”
Samuel Eaddy lives in Springfield, so for him, the day is deeply personal. “For people like me, myself who’s just coming out of prison and all that, and trying to stay out and progress myself and do better in life, so I come here and I get paid and I come here and clean up the community,” Eaddy said.
The Roca crew took a break from cleaning up from the tornado damage. They exchanged handshakes and high fives with construction crews, Springfield sheriffs, business owners and others who are working to recover from the unexpected storms.
Raymond DeJesus stood on the corner of Main Street and Howard waiting for new instructions for his crew. “We’re waiting for the city of Springfield to place us. And wherever they place us, that’s where we’re going to be” DeJesus said.