State officials led by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito visited the town of Conway Monday to see firsthand the damage caused by Saturday’s freak February tornado, and to assure residents the state will help the small town rebuild.
When Tropical Storm Irene and a rare October snowstorm struck the hill towns in Hampshire and Franklin counties in 2011 they were followed by federal disaster declarations to help pay for the costs of the emergency response, cleanup, and rebuilding. But such help is unlikely this time for the town of Conway, according to Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz.
"It is unlikely the damage will reach any federal threshold, so I do not expect a federal disaster declaration," he said.
Damage from the tornado, the first February twister in Massachusetts since modern record-keeping began, was confined to an area roughly five miles long and twenty miles wide. A dozen homes were damaged, with six left uninhabitable. A 300-year old barn that was being used to store antiques was flattened and a church heavily damaged. Hundreds of trees were snapped in two or toppled.
No one was killed or injured.
Polito surveyed the damage and spoke with town officials and residents and said she would brief Gov. Charlie Baker upon his return Tuesday from Washington where he was attending meetings of the National Governors Association.
"Two years ago when we were overwhelmed by the ( snow)storms of 2015, I think that helped prepare us for challenges like this," said Polito.
State Rep. Stephen Kulik, whose district includes Conway and who is vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said once MEMA makes a damage assessment and the costs to the town are tallied officials will look at the possibility of providing state funds.
"This is not unheard of when there have been natural disasters," said Kulik. " We've done this in other parts of the Commonwealth over the years when there have been seawall failures and flooding from storms. We can provide some supplemental funding through the state budget process and that will certainly be an option here in Conway."
Conway has a population of 2,000 people and an annual budget of roughly $5 million.
" The town of Conway lost the roof from their salt and sand shed at the highway department. That is insured and there will be claim made," said Kulik. " Most of the damage seems restricted to personal property and hopefully people would be insured for an event like this. There will be the cost of the town's emergency response. A lot of people were working overtime during the weekend."
Jason Kicza of Northeast Tree Care and Landscaping, who was working Monday to remove trees that came crashing down onto a house, said it was the most severe tree damage he’s seen in the area in several years.
" We were due for one like this, " he said. " This is New England, they come around."
The town has established a relief fund at the Greenfield Savings Bank. The Conway Firemen’s Auxiliary has created a fundraising page to help residents impacted by the storm.