Tornado stories from the heart

It’s hard to believe that one year ago, tornadoes ripped through western Massachusetts, leaving a path of destruction and devastation.
For many people, the memory of that day will never fade, something evident in the first-hand accounts told in a new book, “Springfield Tornado: Stories from the Heart.”
The book is a compilation of stories and photographs from people affected by the tornado. Gathered and edited by Shawn Morse of Agawam and Loretta Kapinos of Westfield, the book evolved from a Facebook page created by Morse in the aftermath of the tornadoes.
“I was not hit by the tornado, but I saw the devastation,” Morse said. “I didn’t know what I could do personally, so I started a Facebook page to give people a space to share their experiences.”
Morse said there were 5,000 “friends” in a matter of days and the page – and springfieldtornados.com web site Morse also created – became a point of contact for people in need.
“I would post for people to stay away from certain streets and areas so the cleanup crews could do their jobs,” said Morse. “They couldn’t do it because of the gawkers.”
Morse said that although his career path in the past did not involve helping others, lending a hand was just always something he felt compelled to do. Since June 1, 2011, Morse, who is now a personal care assistant for his stepdaughter, has devoted his free time to helping those who suffered in the tornadoes.
Kapinos is a natural when it comes to disaster response. An emergency room nurse, she has taken several trips to respond to disasters, including to Haiti, and her training immediately kicked in last June 1.
“The hospital went into disaster response, so I did respond,” Kapinos said.
When Kapinos discovered Morse’s Facebook and website, she reached out to him when he put out a call for a publisher to compile the stories he received from so many strangers.
“I have a friend who started his own publishing business and I’ve been writing for a few years, so I thought I could help,” Kapinos said. “It seemed like the perfect fit.”
Morse, Kapinos and publisher MikeInk embarked on a journey to bring these firsthand accounts to others, and to give back.
Kapinos said reading through the numerous stories was heartbreaking at times, especially the story of Jennifer Bouley, age 9, of Southbridge.
“Her mom submitted a story and said Jenn was having a tough time and wanted to write something to help get it of her chest,” said Kapinos.
Bouley recalled the events of that day, when she was home with her family.
“When the tornado hit, it felt like the air was just being sucked out of me, I couldn’t breathe or anything and my head felt like it was going to explode. All of a sudden, it went dead calm. My dad was about to open the door and go outside but my mom was screaming ‘No, it’s not over.’
“I kept wondering what was going on. It was chaos. I got all confused, I didn’t know what to do . . . I realize just because I am here today doesn’t mean I’ll be here tomorrow. I also learned not to be so needy and greedy.”
For Stacey Dill of Monson, the loss of her home was just part of the devastation that day. She also mourns the loss of the quiet, safe little town where she lives.
“Since that day, I have not rested,” wrote Dill. “The recovery process is long and convoluted. The stress caused by insurance agents and contractors is crippling. The loss of trees and privacy is depressing. Monson. Looks. Ugly.”
“I find it painfully ironic when people say there was no loss of life in the town of Monson. As I see it, the loss of life is tremendous and obvious as you drive past acres of twisted, skeletal remains of what were once strong, noble trees.”
Kimberly Lauren of Springfield wrote about her experience riding out the tornado in her third-story apartment with her seven-month-old and three-year-old.
“I have never seen anything like what I witnessed; the funnel cloud was incredibly close. I saw bricks and boards and debris spinning through the air. I planted my three year-old and his brother in the closet. I lay over them, praying to God to keep my babies safe. The sounds we heard as we huddled together without seeing anything were incredible – glass shattering and structures crumbling – the whistling of the wind was beyond words,” wrote Lauren.
Morse sad he hopes the 19 stories included in the book help people remember, give back and shed light on such an unusual and catastrophic event for western Massachusetts.
“I can’t believe that from a little Facebook page and website we now have a book,” Morse said.
Looking to the future, Morse said he would love to have a movie made about the June 1, 2011 tornadoes “so the whole country can hear these stories and help even more.”
Kapinos said it is her hope that the book can help people heal.
“Springfield Tornado: Stories From the Heart” is available through authormikeink.com and at Barnes and Noble online. The book can also be ordered through the Barnes and Noble store in Holyoke. Several book sales and signings are planned for the near future, including at The Taste of West Springfield.

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