At least two tornadoes left at least four people dead and caused numerous injuries and damage Wednesday in this western Massachusetts city. The twisters scattered debris, toppled trees and frightened workers and residents before racing east.
Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and the National Guard called up about 1,000 troops, NBC News reported.
Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, confirmed the four deaths Wednesday night but said there were no details about the circumstances.
He said two people died in Westfield, one in West Springfield and one in the town of Brimfield.
The first tornado touched down at about 4:30 p.m. local time in Springfield, the third largest city in the state, Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said.
"There was a tornado on the ground and reports of widespread damage in Hampden, Massachusetts, and also reports of damage in Springfield," Vaccaro said.
Much of the damage was in Springfield's South End neighborhood near Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River. Heavy winds could be seen churning the Connecticut River and hail, heavy rain and thunder hammered the area.
A second tornado hit in north Springfield at about 6:20 p.m. local time, authorities said.
Massachusetts state police said that at least 33 people were injured in Springfield, at least five of them seriously.
MacLeod said authorities had a number of reports of injuries but did not yet have firm numbers.
"We have 19 communities in western and central Massachusetts that have reported some form of tornado or touch-down."
Several hundred homes were impacted, the Springfield fire department reported. Shelters opened up at schools and other buildings as the scale of the destruction became clear.
Baystate Medical Center spokeswoman Jane Albert said the trauma center in Springfield was treating numerous injured people. She said some had serious force trauma injuries.
The tornado struck as many workers were beginning to leave for their evening commutes.
Video aired by WWLP-TV showed a debris-filled funnel roaring through the downtown Springfield area. It also showed vehicles overturned after the winds passed through and downed trees at Riverfront Park. Damaged buildings were also visible.
Thomas Walsh, aide to Mayor Domenic Sarno, told NBC station WWLP that residents were asked to stay off roads so that emergency workers could do their jobs.
Walsh said he was looking out his City Hall window around 4:30 p.m. when he saw the funnel.
"I could see this massive cloud of debris floating around in a circular, cylindrical fashion," he said.
Some 26,000 customers in the greater Springfield area lost power when the tornado blasted through. It could take days to restore power for all, a spokesman said.
Sandra Blaney was in her car when she saw trees snap. "I just closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see what happened," masslive.com reported her as saying.
Blaney, who suffered minor cuts when the winds blew her windows out, said she was working in New York City's lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. “It reminded me of that horrible day,” she said.
The Springfield Catholic Diocese said the storm blew out windows at Cathedral High School, where students were safe inside the building.
Bob Pashko, of West Springfield, said he was coming from his doctor's office when the storm started and he went to a downtown bar in Springfield to wait for a ride.
"The next thing you know the TV says a tornado hit the railroad bridge in West Springfield," said Pashko, 50. "It's the baddest I've seen."
At the bar, Pashko said, the owner told people to get away from the window as patrons saw the storm on TV.
"To see it live on TV when I'm five football fields away is better than being outside," Pashko said.
The Weather Channel reported that the tornado moved through areas just east of Springfield.
Vehicles on Interstate 84 near Sturbridge reportedly were turned over by the winds. Signs and trees were downed near one turnpike.
An area of the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Maine has been under a tornado watch for much of the day.
The severe weather was the result of colder air clashing with warm, humid weather that has produced some record temperatures for early June through much of the Mid-Atlantic, meteorologists said.
Tornadoes in Massachusetts are not as common as they are in the Midwest and South. The last one was on July 23, 2008, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
New England sees, on average, two or three tornadoes per year, said Charlie Foley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Taunton, Mass.
"They are rare, but not unique," he said.