Springfield: 10 years since a deadly EF-3 tornado tore through East Forest Park

Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s been 10 years since the deadly EF3 Tornado tore through western Massachusetts, killing three people and injuring 200.

The tornado was on the ground for more than 38 miles from Westfield to Southbridge. A tornado watch was initially issued at 1 p.m. on June 1, 2011. By 4 p.m. a severe thunderstorm had developed over western Hampden County and the watch was upgraded to a tornado warning.

The funnel cloud reached the ground at 4:17 p.m. in Westfield, starting its nearly 40-mile journey. It left a path of destruction nearly a half-mile wide. More than 300 houses were completely destroyed, 1400 were damaged, and 78 businesses were damaged. Four schools were closed for the remainder of the year and 10,000 acres of woodlands were leveled.

In all, the Massachusetts Division of Insurance reported $175 million in damage claims, and then-President Obama issued a Major Disaster Declaration.

Roughly 200 of those leveled homes were in Springfield, specifically, the East Forest Park area was hit particularly hard. The neighborhood has undergone major changes since then. Homes are being rebuilt and trees are being replanted on Pennsylvania Avenue. People picked up the pieces of their lives and 10 years later are getting it back to this point.

Springfield will commemorate the day with a moment of silence and reflection on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon. Mayor Domenic Sarno will join with Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood and Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi to lead the ceremony. The Old First Church bell will ring at 4:38 p.m. which is the exact time the tornado hit Springfield.

The EF3 tornado absolutely leveled the neighborhood and lifted homes right off their foundations.
Cars were turned upside down, trees crashed down making the roads in the area unrecognizable.
22News spoke to people who were there on June 1, 2011, and here’s what they remember about that powerful storm.

LIVE: June 1, 2011 Tornado

Kelly Westbrooks, who lived there since 2004 said, “I was home and all of a sudden the sky got very weird. It turned orange and dark. We saw something coming from the far corner. All of a sudden my husband said we have to get in the basement.”

When Westbrooks went outside, she said it was unbelievable.

“Everything was a mess,” she explained. “A street over, there was a garage that had moved a few houses down. There were wires down, trees down, pieces of houses missing. It was very surreal. It reminded me of Twister.”

“I called and ordered a pizza. The kid I worked with, we were on State Street, He called me out and I went out and you could see down to the River and you could see the tornado. I forgot about the pizza and started to head home,” David Ives who lived there for 35 years told 22News. “I was trying to call my wife. I couldn’t call my wife because the service was bad. She was in the house when the tornado hit. Our house was destroyed, twisted off the foundation. The back third of it was gone. She finally made her way to Island Pond Rd. I met her coming down Island Pond Rd. Really, it was kind of like a Lifetime movie moment or something.”

Ray Gossman has lived in the Pennsylvania Ave. area for almost 50 years. He told 22News what he remembers most about that day. “That day, my grandson and I walked down to Roosevelt Ave. because I wanted to check on an elderly couple that I knew down there. We walked right by Roosevelt Ave. Didn’t even know it was Roosevelt Ave.”

East Forest Park was just one of many places in western Massachusetts that were forever changed by the tornado.

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