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The Day After…

Monson Steeple Destroyed (CBS3 Springfield)
The tornado that hit Springfield and its environs yesterday was nothing like the ones that struck Joplin, Mo. or Tuscaloosa, Ala.  Still, these devastating cyclones bore down hard on densely settled areas and wreaked havoc, particularly on the city’s older buildings and homes generally throughout the region.  As stated in our earlier post, the South End of Springfield was hit hard as were homes along  South Branch Parkway and Arcadia Avenue.  Tree damage is extensive up near the former campus of the MacDuffie School and at and around Cathedral High School and along Watershops Ponds.  Cathedral’s building suffered extensive damage to the windows and walls.  In West Springfield, the Merrick section was devastated.  Whole sections of Monson were leveled.

This video of the cycling moving along the Connecticut River, sucking up water and barreling into the CSX and Memorial Bridges are particularly terrifying.

From what we have seen, the most obvious and consistent damage throughout the region is the plethora of trees littering the ground, properties and streets.  Many of these trees obviously also caused damage to cars and buildings.  Traveling down Allen Street in Springfield, just before the Watershops Armory, the number of downed trees appeared to multiply.  None were obstructing traffic, but, travel was slow-going down the hill.  Aerial photography shows damage to the roof of the old Armory building at 1 Allen Street.

MacDuffie Campus (WMassP&I)
Turning onto Rifle Street, the road was covered in branches and tree limbs.  The trees growing along the Mill River seemed bent and out of place.  Johnny Appleseed Park at Locust and Hancock had its share of downed trees none of which, miraculously, appeared to have fallen on the playground.  Mangled trees were the norm until the MacDuffie campus.  Roofs were either covered with debris or clearly damaged.  What used to be a fairly well-shaded ex-campus was now largely exposed to sky.  Fallen trees were more visible than grass.  Across the street limbs and branches littered the roofs and lawns of the historic homes on Maple.

Although some debris remained along the rest of the path to downtown, the street was pretty clear.  By the Central Library it hardly looked like anything was out of the ordinary.  Hillman Street was clear.  Turning left onto Main street was a challenge and cop cars shuttled up and down the city’s main drag.  Main Street was cut off below State street by a police barricade.  The photographic evidence from elsewhere suggests that that areas was where the most damage was in “downtown.”

Court Square sustained significant damage, but not as bad as early press accounts had suggested.  Several large trees were uprooted taking with them some bricks from the square’s walkways.  However, a few large trees survived unscathed.  The monuments and fountain appeared unharmed.  News vans from as far away as Albany lined the square.  Amazingly, no windows appeared broken on the Court Square hotel facing the square, an impressive situation as the ever-ready-to-be-developed building and its windows are not in the best condition.

Circling the block to State Street, some windows did appear broken on the hotel rear end and a storefront on State Street looked bombed out.  Riverfront park, again, like many parts of the city looked bad, but clearly could have looked worse.  An Amtrak repair truck based out of Bear, DE sat by the tracks.  Service had been restored early this morning according to an Amtrak Twitter account.  Trees were down throughout the park and a few lampposts had likewise collapsed.  Still, the park’s damage might have been easily mistaken for the overgrowth seen in a recent visit to the Connecticut River Bikeway.

Court Sq. (WMassP&I)
A short drive away in the parking lot of the Basketball Hall of Fame, a massive State Police RV was the locus of the staging area for emergency and recovery vehicles.  Ambulances and police cruisers lines the parking lot.  Trucks, ostensibly with supplies took up a few spots on the UNO’s side of the Hall parking lot.  National guard vehicles puttered around Springfield, including along Hall of Fame Avenue (West Columbus Ave).
Upon closer inspection, the East Forest Park area looks pretty bad.  However, the greatest damage was to the trees, particularly the tallest ones.  Most fell onto the street and had already been pushed parallel to the curb.  Others collapsed onto lawns or power lines.  Some fell onto homes, but rather than crash through them, the houses caught the trees who has stood probably since before the neighborhood developed.  Meanwhile, trees younger than Cathedral’s present freshman sat virtually undisturbed.

E. Forest Park on Roosevelt Ave (WMassP&I)
Moving closer to South Branch Parkway, however, and the damage grew worse.  Where as along Plumtree Road, the older trees gave way, but other still shaded the street, further north the sky was as naked as it was over Maple Street.  Here unenclosed porches and canopies were not so lucky and some houses had their shingles blown off.  Others were not nearly as lucky.  The Boston Globe reports that Pennsylvania Avenue was hit particularly hard with several homes destroyed.  Based on the landmarks mentioned in the article, that damage coincides with our observations putting along Pennsylvania between South Branch and Ithaca.
On Arcadia Avenue, a street, also along Watershops Ponds, many houses appeared to have suffered wind damage with missing shingles and bare external walls…if any walls at all.  Along Island Pond, near Cathedral, the trees were also pulled down and it may have caused some damage to the rear of the houses that rim Island Pond.  Closer to Watershops pond, however, the body of water was clearly visible as the south side of its belt of trees had now given way to army of half-trucks broken like twigs.   Power lines and telephone poles littered the ground as Western Mass Electric Company workers and tree service crews labored to restore the neighborhood to normality.

The Globe also reported that Gov. Deval Patrick said 200 buildings were destroyed in the storm including 35 in Springfield and 88 in West Springfield.  One may balk at that number 200, but in fact that is fairly small.  That is probably not much comfort to the occupants of those buildings.

It was difficult to assess the breadth of the damage in East Forest Park.  Traffic still cannot pass Plumtree Road beyond South Branch Parkway and Bradley Road was reportedly blocked off last night.  One thing seems at least seems certain.  The neighborhood will recover.  Fighting against the smell of tree sap and leaves was the aroma of more than a few barbecues.  Among the onlookers were many neighbors gathered talking to one another.  The Republican reports electricity is still off.  One family was carrying a box of pizza home from their car.
Mitt Romney, during his announcement of another presidential bid, made no mention of the tornadoes in the state he used to govern.  Meanwhile, Sarah Palin vacationing to attract attention to herself after the media stopped caring, offered a vapid show of support to victims, even as her “bus tour” had to take shelter en route to Boston yesterday.
East Forest Park, Gillette Circle (WMassP&I)
This evening Congressman Richard Neal and Sen. John Kerry are calling for the Springfield area to be declared a national disaster area by President Barack Obama.  In all likelihood the president will do so.  That will unleash additional assistance from the federal government for small businesses and homeowners.  The governor is scaling back the “Emergency” component of the state’s operations according to WBUR.  However, recovery and reconstruction efforts are even now underway.   

What is particularly striking about the damage caused by the tornado is how selective it is.  While, trees especially tall ones seemed clearly doomed, houses themselves in Springfield, at least, seemed to be destroyed or otherwise damaged almost arbitrarily.  An intact house doused with branches next to a shingle-less, but stable house next to an open foundation.  Truly there, but the grace of God, it seems.

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