Several of the western Massachusetts communities that were in the path of almost unimaginable destruction one year ago today will hold remembrance events. It will be an opportunity to reflect on the one year anniversary of the worst tornado to hit the state in a half-century and also to look toward what many hope will be a brighter future. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Cities and towns in the 39 mile long, half-mile wide path of the tornado will observe the anniversary with events that include an inter-faith church service, the dedication of a memorial garden, neighborhood picnics and block parties. Three people were killed, dozens injuried and more than 14 hundred buildings damaged or destroyed. Landscapes were forever changed by the loss of thousands of trees uprooted and broken by winds that exceeded 130 miles per hour.
The tornado tore through the backyard of Rick Caputo’s home in Springfield’s East Forest Park neighborhood. He recalls how people pitched in to help one another.
Previously tree lined streets are now without shade. More than 2200 trees in that neighborhood alone were lost, but Caputo says houses have been repaired or rebult.
East Forest Park residents are planning to mark the tornado anniversary with several block parties.
An inter-faith service with prayers, personal remembrances and remarks from local , state and federal officials will be held in Springfield’s historic Old First Church, just blocks from where the tornado roared into the city’s downtown.
Organizer Judy Matt, of Spirit of Springfield expects the church will be packed.
Church bells across the city are to toll at 4:37 PM, marking the time the tornado arrived in Springfield.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno says the tornado anniversary observance is a time to look forward.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is scheduled to receive an update on the rebuilding from officials in the town of Monson. The governor will also attend the dedication of a memorial garden in West Springfield.
Lt Governor Timothy Murray is to visit several rebuilding sites before attending the service in Springfield.
Anti poverty activists are planning a demonstration in downtown Springfield. They contend the city’s 900 page tornado rebuilding plan does not include enough housing for the poor. Hundreds of rental units for low income people were destroyed by the tornado, and have not been rebuilt.