Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
At least 200 buildings were destroyed by tornadoes as they carved their deadly paths through Central and Western Massachusetts on Wednesday, hitting particularly hard in a group of eight or nine communities that included the city of Springfield, Governor Deval Patrick said this afternoon.
Patrick, who said the National Weather Service had confirmed that at least three tornadoes had touched down, said 35 buildings were destroyed in Springfield, 88 in West Springfield, and "77 and counting" in Monson. The official death toll remains at four and no one is unaccounted-for, he said.
He said 290 people were still in shelters, about half the number from Wednesday, and 40,000 to 41,000 homes and businesses were without power.
Meanwhile, the grim details -- and a story of a heroic mother saving her child -- began to emerge about the people who were killed in the storms.
Officials in West Springfield said Angelica Guerrero, 39, had been killed when she threw her teenage daughter in the bathtub and jumped on top of her, saving her as the house collapsed around them.
Sergey Livchin, 23, was also killed in West Springfield when a tree fell and crushed his 2005 Kia during the storm. In Brimfield, officials said a woman was killed when she became trapped under a mobile home. Springfield police said the fourth person was an elderly man from their community who had suffered an unrelated heart attack before the storm, but a state spokesman said this evening that officials were still counting that death as part of the official toll.
Patrick spoke at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham after spending the day with other top state elected officials touring the stricken areas.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we’re in the tens of millions” in damage, said US Senator John F. Kerry, who joined Patrick and US Senator Scott Brown this morning at a news conference across the street from the First Church of Monson, which had its steeple blown off by violent winds.
He said the state's congressional delegation would push for federal funding to assist area residents.
Brown also told reporters he and Kerry would be “advocating zealously” for federal assistance. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he ssaid.
The tornadoes were spawned by a swarm of severe thunderstorms that rolled from west to east across the state on Wednesday. Saying damage had been sustained in 19 communities. Patrick declared a state of emergency Wednesday night, mobilizing up to 1,000 National Guard soldiers.
Patrick said this afternoon that it turned out only eight or nine communities had suffered "significant damage" and he was scaling back the state of emergency to focus on those communities.
He said after a briefing with MEMA officials this afternoon that the efforts were transitioning from "rescue" to "recovery" in the area.
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Judge said this morning that efforts were continuing to search collapsed buildings, and some local police were making a second round of well-being checks on people to make sure people are safe.
Judge said about 10 disaster assessment teams, composed of people from the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the state building inspector's office, were in the field.
"I think we’re just very lucky at this point we're only talking about four fatalities," he said.
In their Monson appearance, Patrick, Kerry and state Senator Stephen M. Brewer each hugged Jeannie Felton, 55, a resident who was overwhelmed by the storm damage she saw around her on Main Street and adjacent streets.
“There was so many houses missing,’’ Felton said.
The small knot of politicians was followed by dozens of area residents who made their way past fallen trees, and flattened or damaged houses. At least one car was overturned by the ferocious weather.
The officials had started the day around 6 a.m. in Springfield, where the downtown area was heavily damaged. Patrick, Kerry, Brown, and others toured the MassMutual Center where some 400 people were sheltering and also visited the rescue staging area at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
They flew by helicopter along the path of damage caused by the storm before landing in Monson.
Patrick had traveled to Western Massachusetts Wednesday night, staying over at his home in the town of Richmond.
In West Springfield, Police Chief Thomas Burke said Guerrero, who lived near the intersection of George and Union streets, "threw her 15-year-old daughter into the bathtub, jumped on top of her, and the house came down around her."
His face flushed with emotion as he added, “And she is the one who perished.’’
Burke is a 41-year veteran of the department and has been chief for the last nine years.
"If you take a look at the destruction down there, it's amazing that there weren't more
deaths,’’ he said. “In the 41 years that I've been here, I've never seen anything like this."
The chief said his city has also experienced shocking behavior from some people.
"We've had a couple of calls for looting this morning,’’ he said. “Last night, the weather was so bad the only people that were out there were us.’’
Ed Gibson, West Springfield’s mayor, said the tornado struck a 2-square-mile area and that 13 people were transported to the hospital. He said a dozen buildings were "totally demolished" and many others suffered some damage.
In Springfield, Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Conant said about 35 people were treated for injuries, including five who were in critical condition. He said urban search and rescue teams were continuing their work this morning.
Police Commissioner Bill Fitchet said the city was in “a stabilization phase.” He said the public had been very cooperative but urged people to stay away from damaged areas and not to participate in “disaster tourism.”
In Brimfield, a woman was killed when she became trapped underneath a mobile home in a mobile home park, State Police Trooper John Tasker said.
More details were not available and the identity of the woman was not released. Tasker said more than 100 homes suffered some amount of damage in the storm and that 50 percent of the town is without power, a situation that may last into the weekend.
A temporary shelter has been established at a town elementary school. Town officials were huddling in a meeting this afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
This afternoon in Brimfield, a Globe reporter riding with a state trooper through several restricted areas that had been hit hard, observed thousands of felled trees, hundreds of yards of downed power lines, and dozens of houses that had been completely destroyed.
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