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2012 tornadoes

State officials believe forests should stay 'untouched' in tornado-stricken areas

Posted by Amy Chaunt May 7, 2012 02:10 PM

In Southbridge, 50 acres of forest that was mostly leveled by last Spring's tornado will be left alone to heal itself.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, (DFW) which owns the 50 acres, out of a total of 350 acres of forest in Southbridge, decided to leave mother nature alone.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for trees.jpg
“DFW will help conduct whatever clearing of tornado debris is requested by public fire and safety officials in coordination with adjacent property owners. Other than that, we like the habitat structure as it is,” said John Scanlon, the Forestry Supervisor of DFW.

David Kittredge, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor, says there were “two schools of thought” on what to do with the tornado-stricken land.

“Some people think that, well we got to get right in there and clean up that forest now, cause it’s either a mess or a fire danger or we cant hike in it or recreate thru it, there’s a human compulsion to make it look better than destruction,” he said. “The other school of thought, says you know, that’s the way it works, and even though it was destroyed, it’s really a relatively unique circumstance out there.”

The tornado’s path covered 7,200 acres in Western Massachusetts – with 4,500 of that being considered forest – and 65 percent of that is now considered “open.”

Kittredge thinks that people are most likely to want to fix the land and pick it up because it is a mess to look at.

“The most important thing is that it (tornado) converts standing forests to a big mess of horizontal sticks and trees all jumbled together, however, nature is pretty clever and wild life is pretty clever, and tornadoes were happening long before we got here,” Kittredge said.

Massachusetts is the third densest populated state in the country but it is ranked eighth in the highest percent of forest cover. Before the storm, people were living in communities surrounded by trees and now, the landscape has changed.

“You know forests deal with this stuff all the time, they have adapted in evolutionary time, where either the trees snap or get uprooted,” said Fletcher Clark, a UMass graduate student in forestry. “I think the decision to keep it as is and do nothing is probably a good one.”

“It’s sad for the people’s homes that were affected, but….. the forest is messy place but it’s also a resilient place, this is what forests do,” said Clark.

Photo Credit: John Scanlon

Brush fires becoming huge concern for Brimfield, Monson

Posted by Amy Chaunt April 6, 2012 02:57 PM

By Amy Chaunt and T.J. Houpes

IMG_2491.JPGA brush fire broke out Wednesday in Brimfield, damaging 52 acres of land in the Paige Hill Road area as a result of the recent dry weather and leftover debris from last June's tornado.

Brimfield Fire Chief Fred Piechota said fire started small Wednesday afternoon -- behind a residence on Paige Hill Road. He said it then rapidly spread toward the Holland Road area behind the 1 Stop Towing company located in town as winds increased during the course of the day.

"Initially it was our department and two other departments, but when it spread the incident commander called for a task force," he said. "We had roughly 60 personnel working and 25-30 departments that responded."

In addition to Brimfield fire
and police units, units fromIMG_2480.JPG
the Massachusetts Forest Fire
Control, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Special Operations, Palmer Fire Department, and Ware Fire Department also helped in controlling the flames. As of noon on Thursday, the fire was out and crews were leaving the operations center which had been set up at the intersection of Paige Hill and Haynes Hill roads.

Early last week, a minor brush fire broke out in Monson on T Peck Road, luckily resulting in little damage to the surrounding area.

“The fire was a result of a homeowner who had been burning during the weekend and didn’t put it out properly,” said George L. Robichaud, the Fire Chief/Forest Fire Warden for the town of Monson. “Dry conditions and wind in the days preceding the fire, and inappropriate extinguishment, ultimately had caused the fire.”

According to Robichaud, warnings are posted by the Monson Fire Department and are based off of 1-5 scale of fire danger days, with one being the lowest and five being the highest. A red flag day signals conditions that are extremely dangerous for burning and more likely to cause fire damage.

“We are kind of in a position where we are dependent on rainfall and it needs to be measurable,” said Robichaud. “The ground is usually wet at this time and in the past, there was a heavy dew and now there is no breeze during the day and anytime you have air movement, it dries things out.”

Fire Chief Piechota echoed these same sentiments in regard to residents in Brimfield.

"The only thing we can do, and did, was prohibit any outside burning," he said. "Brush permits are suspended until further notice until it rains at least a little."

Normally, burning season takes place from Jan. 15 to May 1, but with the red flag conditions still in place for the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely any burning will take place in either town. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for giving out burning permits to residents, and this determination is based on a day-to-day basis, given the weather.

Scott Harris, a former Monson firefighter and current resident, is equally concerned about the hazardous fire conditions created by the weather and the leftover debris. His biggest concern for Monson and the surrounding communities is that some people will be irresponsible and not use common sense when burning debris.

“If you can’t afford a chipper, this is what you do,” said Harris. “But if you have acres and acres of land, that’s tough and burning is an inexpensive way to do it."

Residents with debris still in their yards from the tornado are the ones in highest jeopardy of causing a brush fire.

“The highest fire danger we have is right in the tornado path,” Robichaud said. "These areas have lost foliage coverage with the trees being gone, so with the trees being gone no longer have shade so everything is out and exposed."

With equally dry conditions anticipated this summer, Robichaud highly advised against the decision to burn.

“As for burning this summer, they’re (residents) not."

Photos by T.J. Houpes

Texas tornadoes latest in string of early season storms

Posted by Nick Russo April 6, 2012 07:18 AM

Residents of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area will remember April 3, 2012 as a day that left many scared, but also feeling somewhat lucky.

A total of 13 tornadoes touched down in the region with three causing significant damage to hundreds of structures and property, but, miraculously, resulted in no loss of life and few injuries.

The tornado outbreak, which caused planes to be grounded for hours, was not uncharacteristic of the usual Texas tornado season, which is typically at its strongest in April. However, many early season tornadoes like those in Henryville, Ind., present a threat of a particularly violent tornado season ahead.

While many of the tornadoes affected open land, a few caused significant damage in suburban neighborhoods. According to WFAA-TV, a CNN affiliate based in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, in the town of Forney, nearly 100 homes were damaged and one-third were completely destroyed in the path of an EF-3 tornado.

In the Diamond Creek Estates, a subdivision in Forney, a grandmother saved her own life as well as those of three children she was babysitting by taking shelter in a bathtub -- a situation reminiscent of Springfield's heroic mother Angelica Guerrero, who died while saving the lives of her children in last June's tornadoes in Springfield.

In Forney and other towns across the region, the Red Cross teamed up with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army to hand out blankets, meals, and other relief supplies to hundreds of survivors. The Red Cross reported over 150 people seeking assistance in temporary shelters across the region Tuesday.

Observers and officials have noted that compared to many of the other tornadoes that have struck communities across the country this spring, the Dallas-Ft. Worth storms were relatively tame, resulting in slightly fewer injuries and no deaths. Citing advanced notice and cautious preparation as well as the time of day, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez told USA Today that "it might have been different if it hit at 7 or 8 o'clock at night. It hit when a lot of people were at work, and the warnings were there."

WFAA-TV also reported that both a declaration of disaster and a visit by Gov. Rick Perry helped to accelerate the response and recovery process. The total dollar amount of damage has not been released, though is estimated to number in the millions.

FEMA has activated a regional Incident Management Assistance Team and will assist state and local authorities if needed and requested. It is not clear whether the state has made such a request.

A number of agencies in addition to the Red Cross are offering relief assistance and accepting donations. More information can be found by clicking here.

Red Cross teams up with Dell to monitor social networks in the wake of disasters

Posted by Joseph Pereira March 26, 2012 02:00 PM

redcrossdigital.jpgThe American Red Cross, in collaboration with Dell, recently unveiled a new Digital Operations Center that will use social media sites to help in disaster recovery.

"This is the first ever social media command center dedicated specifically to humanitarian response,” said Laura Howe, vice president of public affairs for the Red Cross.

The system, donated by Dell, scours social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, allows the Red Cross is able to pinpoint relief efforts in a suitable and relevant way. The system is based on Dell's own Social Media Listening Command Center, which they use to monitor discourse about their brand on the Internet.

The Red Cross' Digital Operations Center was quickly put to use earlier this month immediately after the tornadoes that hit the Midwest. By tracking social media the center was quickly able to pinpoint Henryville, Indiana as a town hit hard by a tornado on March 2.

“We’re not at the point where we’re telling the public you can tweet at the Red Cross and we’ll send a sandwich truck out to feed you,” Wendy Harman, the Red Cross director of social strategy, told Mashable. “But if we see twenty tweets like that, we may.”

The Red Cross claims that the Internet is currently the third most popular source of news during emergencies behind television and radio, with 18 percent of people using Facebook to get their information.

In the aftermath of almost any disaster, social media is used for more than just calling for aid, there are also people looking to assist and volunteer. For this, the Red Cross has also unveiled a new Digital Volunteer program, which would let people reply to inquiries about services available, suggest resources or simply be there for moral support. The Red Cross will train volunteers across the country to properly handle these situations and moderate the data on the software. This will be a big increase from the three paid employees who previously handled all social media throughout the country.

When an EF-4 tornado hit Harrisburg, Illinois on Feb. 29, members of the community took matters into their own hands and quickly started organizing and collaborating on Facebook, much like Monson did last June.

With most lines of communication cut, people took to their smartphones and laptops and created several Facebook pages. One page gave up-to-the minute updates of weather reports, deaths and pictures from members of the community. Another focused on collaborating volunteer efforts and needs. The Red Cross will now closely monitor forums like these in the immediate aftermath of disasters.

According to the Red Cross 80 percent of people expect emergency responders to monitor social media.

Creative Commons Image courtesy of Dell

Joseph Pereira can be reached at jlawrencepereira@gmail.com

Wilbraham firefighter travels to Midwest to help tornado victims

Posted by Anna Meiler March 15, 2012 10:39 AM

bus.jpg

With only a backpack, a hammock and a desire to “pay forward” the support Western Massachusetts received in the months following the June 1 tornado, Wilbraham’s Jason Dimitropolis recently traveled to the tornado ravaged community of Henryville, IN. The firefighter and paramedic returned on March 10 after a week of helping victims begin a long recovery process. Photos of his trip can be viewed here.

We caught up with Dimitropolis and a personal account of his trip follows:

“Upon arriving in Louisville, I was greeted by a friend, of a friend, of a friend....whom I've never met. He gave me a ride from the airport to Henryville, which is about twenty miles north. I find it amazing that this gentleman took time out of his day and from his family to pick me up and haul me around at ten p.m. When we got into Henryville it was dark, but the damage was unimaginable. Almost everything was completely leveled. I hate to downplay the storms that affected our area back in June, but they really pale in comparison to things here.

“Luckily, the town’s fire department was unharmed by the storm. I spent Monday night at the fire department, sorting supplies and equipment, and helping care for the people who would occasionally wander in. Tuesday, I started to pound the pavement and go from house to house. Realize that when I say ‘house,’ I really mean pile of rubble. Sometimes, there weren't even piles because things were so scattered around by the winds.

“After several hours of hard work out in the town, I took up a role back at the fire dept. as fuel master for the operations under way. I was charged with receiving and distributing deliveries of gasoline and diesel fuel for the affected areas. Towns people were also able to fill containers with fuel for their generators and equipment. I met alot of very nice and appreciative folks while at that post. Later in the afternoon, I set out on foot for a neighboring town, Marysville. While there, I did more work alongside people trying to collect belongings and clean up damage. I also distributed some of the nearly five hundred dollars worth of gift cards and cash that I collected prior to leaving home.

“When it became dark, I made the hike back to Henryville. I think it took about niney minutes to go between towns. Monday night, I was able to set up camp and sleep in a garage back at the fire department. Today, my day started at about 5:30am. That's when things start to come alive and the machines and people start clambering. I did some more work with the residents and right now, I'm having a quick bite to eat while tapping out this message.

“One funny thing is that through talking with, and helping people, I've become sort of known throughout the town here. I can't tell you how many times I've heard ‘Hey, you must be Massachusetts’ from people I've never met before. It's just a really good feeling to put a smile on someone's face, at a time when they need it most.


“The remainder of my trip was basically a duplication of the first few days. Work started at sun up, so as to make the most of my short stay out there. I would split my time between working with the fire department, and working on my own, out in the town. As the days went on, things seemed to operate a bit more smoothly overall. Meals were being brought in and distributed by not only the Red Cross, but also from small mom and pop type restaurants as well as several large chains. Residents of nearby towns would also drop off non-perishable items and toiletries. The number of people being let in to the town was still being regulated by the Indiana State Police, who had around-the-clock check points at each road that led into town. This was to be sure that anyone who didn't need to be there, wasn't, as there were a hand full of incidents involving the looting of peoples property. Those, however, were swiftly resolved by the police.

“A small army of volunteers from many different organizations also descended upon the town, and I'm certain that Henryville's population increased at least three times its normal size while I was there. I met people from every state that surrounds Indiana and even a retired firefighter from the FDNY who, like myself, had simply up and left his home in New York so that he could lend a hand.

“The final day of my trip was a dreary one. The weather, which was in the mid sixties and sunny every other day, turned a bit cooler, and the rain was unrelenting. No one was willing to let mother nature put a damper on our efforts, though. The work carried on, we were just a bit muddier. That day also held the funeral of one of Henryville residents who had perished in the storm. I believe that almost every person from that town turned out to mourn this man. In a town of about two thousand people, everyone knows one another. If there was anyone not in the long procession, they were lining the streets that it traveled. The firefighters, police, and emergency medical technicians also lined the streets, with bowed heads and folded hands. The compassion and fellowship was awe-inspiring.

“As my final hours in Henryville wound down, I began to have people seeking me out to say goodbye and express their appreciation for my efforts. I was told countless times to return for a visit, which I will one day do. I then said my goodbyes to the members of the fire department. I won't deny that my eyes swelled up a bit as they all gathered for my departure. The fire service really is a brotherhood, regardless of where you are from, and they were more welcoming and supportive of me than I can convey. When it was time for me to go, my ride to the airport was provided by the fire captain, who tasked one of his men with driving me down to Kentucky. They joked that if I missed my flight, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, as I could just stay a bit longer. I didn't miss it, however, and my journey came to an end as I headed home. I will always hold tight my memories from Henryville.

“It was an unforgettable experience, in an amazing place, with some of the nicest people I have ever met.”

South End businesses beginning to rebound thanks to grant program

Posted by Joseph Pereira March 9, 2012 03:44 PM

Main Street Sprinfield Boarded UpThe Main Street section of the South End in Springfield, which is largely known for its Italian restaurants, delis and grocers, was heavily hit by last June’s tornadoes. The section has already started to rebound with grants, insurance claims and private funds. Rebuild Springfield, a partnership formed by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, DevelopSpringfield and the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, has been offering grants up to $10,000 to help renovate storefronts in the South End.

Although the area is still visibly damaged with boarded up storefronts, stripped trees, and tarped roofs, Rebuild Springfield recently unveiled a “master plan” mapping out the path to recovery.

Rebuild Springfield hired Concordia, LLC, a New Orleans based consulting group, to help with the rebuild project. Concordia has been involved with past disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina, producing the Unified New Orleans Plan. The plan was developed to unify the fragmented relief efforts in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

According to Rebuild Springfield, 74 small businesses and nonprofits were affected in some degree in Springfield alone. Since then, 47 of these establishments have reopened in their existing locations, with 18 moving into temporary or new spaces. Nine businesses are still seeking new spaces.

The grants, which were available prior to the tornado as a way to rejuvenate the downtown area, have since become less of a consolation and more of a necessity for the impacted businesses. The grants offered require a 25 percent match by the business.

Milano Imports, a market and deli that’s been on Main Street since 1968, was in the direct path of the tornado and suffered significant damage. The owners were awarded the full $10,000 grant to help defray the costs of reviving their storefront, according to co-owner Nick Recchia.

“They were nice enough to help with the awning, the new front windows, the new signage for the front,” said Recchia, “The grant covered it all, we just had to pay the 25 percent.”

Business in the South End is back to normal or better according to some owners that have been able to reopen.

“I can’t really say how much percentage it’s been up, but we've surpassed the numbers last year at this time of year,” said Recchia, ”but I'm thinking maybe 10 percent.”

He cites his loyal following of customers as being a vital part in helping improve business.

The storm has also not stopped one new business from moving into the damaged area. A new eatery is already in the works at 912 Main St., to be called Carpaccio Restaurant. With the help of a $25,000 small business loan from the Office of Planning and Economic Development, the business looks to open this spring.

Joseph Pereira can be reached at jlawrencepereira@gmail.com

State insurance officials 'drop in' to check on Monson residents

Posted by Amy Chaunt March 9, 2012 02:52 PM

By Amy Chaunt & Anna Meiler

Monson residents struggling to rebuild and recover after the June 1 tornado had a chance to meet with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Wednesday night -- the first of many "drop in" meetings to check up on the affected communities in Western Massachusetts.

“I think we’re getting to the point now where we have people with more challenging situations that need more direct assistance,” said Monson Town Administrator, Gretchen Neggers.

Three counselors from the Division of Insurance were present to offer advice and tips to the tornado victims. Eleven affected families attended the meetings, but due to the complexity of each situation, the counselors were busy nonstop for the entire four-hour session.

“I think people want to know that someone is paying attention to their situation. We can’t always fix it and we can’t always fix it the way they want it but we can certainly listen and do our best to get them some information,” said Karen Blomquist, deputy commissioner for Communications and Operations at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance.

Each circumstance is unique, but common themes can be identified at the root of many insurance issues.

These problems include residents being under-insured, being unaware of the true costs of replacement and missing records that were destroyed by the tornado. In some cases, there’s a disagreement about what the value of something is, a common issue in insurance negotiations, according to Blomquist.

“If you stopped any ten consumers on the street in a town that hadn’t been hit by a tornado and asked them did they have full replacement value in their homeowners policy, nine of them would say ‘I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. It’s not the sort of thing you think about until you need to make a claim,” she said. “So some of this is getting the multiple sides of the story together.”

Each case is reviewed by the counselors, who act as intermediaries by reaching out to the insurance companies to address the obstacles faced by homeowners.

“Frequently it is a matter of getting everybody to a place where they can agree on what the true circumstances are and sometimes that’s just a process of having a third party come into the conversation and try to bring everyone together,” said Bomquist.

However, in the case that a homeowner files a complaint, the Division of Insurance initiates an investigation of the company.

Such is the case of Monson resident, Geri Germain, who has been in a constant battle with her insurance company since the tornado.

“They know about our ongoing battle with our public adjuster not doing what we hired him to do and not returning any phone calls and hence, not getting any answers in return from our insurance company,” she said. “So that’s left us with not getting our walls gutted out of our house. The walls are still in the same condition that they were in the day the tornado hit June 1.”

Germain and her 79-year-old mother and 11-year-old daughter are currently living in a rental on Hovey Rd. Each month, they face the fear of eviction. Germain was laid off two weeks before the tornado and can’t afford the rental costs of $3,000 per month.

"Going day to day not knowing when you're going to get back in your house, not knowing where your going to live in a few weeks and you know the possibility of being homeless," she said. "Words can't describe it, you know, it's sickening," Germain said.

The Division of Insurance is investigating the case and Germain has recently hired a lawyer.

Thirty families are currently enrolled in the Monson Long-Term Recovery Program. Neggers estimates that this number represents the total number of families struggling from insurance problems, as turning to the long-term recovery program is usually a last resort.

For families who didn’t attend the meeting tonight, Neggers said the families can fill out complaint forms available at Monson's selectman's offices or online at www.mass.gov/doi.

The Massachusetts Division of Insurance has also activated their consumer hotline number, (617) 521-7777 for residents seeking assistance.

Indiana mother loses her legs protecting her children from tornado

Posted by Salem Gebrezgi March 9, 2012 09:22 AM

In the midst of the recent tornadoes that hit the South and the Midwest, an Indiana mother of two children lost parts of both her legs as she tried to protect her children from a tornado that hit her home.

Stephanie Decker, 36, was at home when she was notified by her husband via text message that a tornado was heading towards where they lived in the town of Henryville, Indiana. Thinking quickly, Decker got both of her children and headed towards the basement of their home, placing blankets over her children in an effort to protect them.

“Then she just stopped texting me,” said Joe Decker in an interview with USA Today.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, as Decker lay in her hospital bed recovering from her injuries, Decker was unable to speak. Instead she had to communicate with her husband using an Ipad because she was using a ventilator to breathe.

After the first storm hit, a second came through her house and Decker tried to protect her children from any falling fragments of her surrounding house.

As she began to recount the events of that night to her husband, Stephanie said that she saw a huge piece of debris begin to crash and she was able to remove her daughter right before it would have hit her, saving her life.

“She doesn’t remember anything after that,” Joe Decker told the Courier Journal.

She recounted that after awhile, all of the debris began to hit her in her back causing her to lay on top of her children making sure they wouldn’t be touched by the debris as well. When the tornado stopped, she saw that her home was no longer there and feared that no one would find them since they were trapped under so much debris. She also looked down and noticed that her leg was hanging, barely attached to her body.

Decker’s 8-year-old son was then able to get himself out of the debris and run to find help. Her neighbor, a County Clark sheriff named Brian Lovins came to assist Decker and her children. He was able to stop the flow of Decker’s blood by using a tourniquet.

This horrific accident comes just months after an eerily similar incident of a West Springfield woman who died trying to protect her daughter when a series of tornadoes hit Western Massachusetts this past June.

Angelica Guerrero, like Decker, used her body to shield her 15-year-old daughter from the falling debris inside their home. Unfortunately, Guerrero died protecting her daughter, while her daughter survived, enduring severe wounds to her legs.

“What I told her was, ‘You’re alive, and you get to see your kids grow up,’ ” Joe Decker told CNN. “If you look in the basement, there’s no way anybody should have lived, let alone two kids who don’t have a scratch on them.”

Residents across Western Mass. looking to 'pay it forward'

Posted by Anna Meiler March 7, 2012 09:00 AM

HARRISBURG.jpg
Jason Dimitropolis, a Wilbraham firefighter and paramedic, worked around-the-clock as a first responder after the June 1 tornadoes hit Western Massachusetts. After experiencing the tragedy himself, he feels a connection to the tornado victims in the Midwest.

“We’re all in this together no matter where we’re from,” he said.

His line of work is one where you act. So on Monday he boarded a plane to Indiana to help with the relief effort in Henryville where a category EF-4 tornado hit on Friday. He brought only a backpack with a few changes of clothes, food and donations such as gift cards, compact lens kits and towels to bring to victims.

Where is he going to sleep? He doesn't know. But, he packed a hammock just in case.

"If you know someone involved, if you're exposed to it long enough, it's going to affect you," he said.

For residents who can't make the trek to the Midwest, they are pulling their resources at home.

“It meant a lot to us after our tornado -- the outpouring of support we got,” said Monson resident, Kimberly Luscombe-Baker. “Now the Monson volunteer team has said ‘OK, here’s a chance to give back.’"

Since last week, Monson residents have been actively pooling their resources to assist those living in Harrisburg, Illinois -- one of the communities hit hardest by the tornadoes. The small town of 9,000 residents, a size similar to Monson, was devastated by a category EF-4 tornado last Wednesday. The tornado damaged approximately 300 homes and reportedly killed six people.

Though Monson fared better on June 1, the recent outbreak of 109 tornadoes across 10 states has brought a flood of traumatic memories back to residents, many of which feel compelled to help the victims in the Midwest.

'They seem to be having the same issues and have the same questions: 'Where do we go for this, how do we know who needs help,'" said Karen King, the founder of Monson's Street Angels. King also set up a Facebook group for Harrisburg residents to mirror the efforts of the Monson Facebook group. The group, Harrisburg Tornado Help has garnered more than 100 "likes" since it was created last Friday.

The Monson Facebook page was filled with discussions on how Monson could help in the recovery and Luscombe-Baker initiated an effort to purchase gift cards at local stores such as Krogers, Home Depot, CVS, Walmart and more so that victims can buy supplies they need to recover. She is also acting as a collection point for care packages to send the Harrisburg Fire Department. Luscombe-Baker said she got the idea from a friend who used to live in "tornado alley," but wasn’t sure how to get started at first.

“I could have said to one friend ‘wouldn’t this be a great idea’ and nothing would’ve happened. But I posted the idea in the Monson Facebook group and presto!” she said.

Monson Tornado Watch 2011 is an active Facebook group with more than 2,000 members that has been instrumental in Monson’s recovery, from organizing volunteer efforts to acting as a pool of resources and information.

Drawing upon her networking experiences after last Spring's tornado, King, a realtor at REMAX Prestige, contacted realtor, Cheryl Winters in Harrisburg to answer some questions residents were having.

King said Winters was grateful for the advice and said, "This is what humanity is about; paying it forward."

Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler16@gmail.com.
Follow her on Twitter @anna_meiler

Photo Courtesy of: Paula Nelson/AME Photography: pnelson@globe.com

View more pictures of the tornado destruction.

Death toll from tornadoes in Midwest, South rises to 39

Posted by Stephen Ndungu March 5, 2012 03:34 PM

The death toll from the tornadoes that swept across the South and Midwest last week rose to 39 today after a baby discovered in an Indiana field died Monday.

Victims of the massive storms spent the weekend trying to comprehend the level of destruction on the region. The tornadoes hit hard in Illinois and Missouri -- a state that has not fully recovered from an EF-5 tornado that hit in May 2011. Harrisburg, Ill. was one of the hardest hit towns -- devastated by an EF-4 tornado that killed at least six people.

The tornadoes have sparked an outpouring of emotion from those in the Western Massachusetts' communities hit by a series of tornadoes last June. Members of the Monson Facebook page helped create a Facebook support page for the people in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg offered a statement on the town website thanking those that were sending their condolences and asking people to unite and help in the cleanup process.

“The many offers of assistance are also appreciated and will surely be needed as we begin the cleanup process,” Gregg said. “We are going to take care of every man, woman and child in this community.”

The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and also told CNN that the tornado caused damage in the tens of millions, causing severe damage to the town of Branson.

“We are confident that Branson will be back bigger and better than ever,” Nixon told CNN.

Some resident who have lived in this areas, said they were shocked to see such an amount of damage. Steven Scharmanzera, a resident of Branson, told CNN: “I’ve never seen anything like this in the 20 years I’ve lived here."

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway passed his condolences and prayers to the affected families and also warned on price-gouging in the wake of the storms.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the many families and communities in Kentucky affected by Friday's historic tornados," Conway said. "As the difficult clean-up begins, I want to ensure that those who are suffering are not victimized again by unscrupulous businesses. My office stands ready to investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks excessive profits during this time of emergency."

About the authors

Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.

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