There are moments in life that you will always remember exactly what you were doing when they happened: When JFK was shot, when man first walked on the moon, when John Lennon was killed, when the first Twin Tower was struck. Although the June 1, 2011 tornado was not an event that had a global effect, its local impact makes it one of those moments.
On June 1, 2011 my son was not yet three and my daughter was one. I worked in the office most of the day and came home in the afternoon to two cranky babies who needed naps. They were not great nap takers so I loaded them up in the car to take a drive, which usually put them to sleep.
I meandered through the streets of Westfield, not wanting to venture too far since it looked like it might rain. As we were driving down Loomis Street, my aunt – who knew we were out for a ride – called and asked where we were. She told me to get to her house ASAP because it was a bit closer than home. She said there was a tornado warning.
I didn’t think much of it, but I did go to her house, which was near Noble Hospital. In just those few minutes I realized this might be real.
Within minutes of arriving, we heard that the tornado was real and had touched down not far from us by Shaker Country Club. It was heading toward West Springfield.
I called my husband, who was working in Springfield and not likely paying attention to the news, to let him know there was a tornado and it had touched down in Westfield and was heading his way.
At my aunt’s house, we were glued to the TV and I started making calls to get reports of damage in Southwick, which I covered for The Westfield News, as well as Longmeadow because I was editor of The Longmeadow News.
We watched as the tornado – rated an EF3 in strength – ripped through the valley and headed toward Worcester county, hitting Hampden, Wilbraham, Monson and more. When it was over, 10 communities sustained major damage and three people were killed. I clearly remember the story of the West Springfield woman who died trying to protect her children.
Hundreds of people were injured, and many neighborhoods decimated. Aerial photos today show the 39-mile path of destruction where trees and homes were destroyed. According to Wikipedia, 88 structures were destroyed in Springfield and another 77 in Monson, plus numerous others between Westfield and Charlton.
After that day, I kept a “tornado pack” in my basement with bottled water, diapers, snacks and a few other necessities, just in case. I was grateful my family and friends were all okay and went home from my aunt’s feeling that we were safe and saying prayers for those who were not.
Westfield leaders acted swiftly to assist residents. It was a proud moment for the city, but of course we had no idea that there was more to come in 2011. . .