Eric Moskowitz / Globe Staff
WEST SPRINGFIELD -- Darlene Fournier stayed on her porch and watched and listened as a killer flew past.
"It was like a whistling,’’ Fournier said of a tornado that authorities now say caused the deaths of two people here on Wednesday. “Afterwards, part of the sky was yellow and part of the sky was green.’’
The fierce storm passed within 100 yards of her home, where 15 people rushed into the basement for safety, including two infants and an elderly neighbor.
Fournier’s home is a short distance from where authorities said one of those killed, a woman, gave her life protecting her daughter. Police Chief Thomas Burke told reporters that the woman was in her house near the intersection of George and Union streets.
"She threw her 15-year-old daughter into the bathtub, jumped on top of her, and the house came down around her,’’ Burke said, his face flushed with emotion. “And she is the one who perished.’’
The second person was in a car when killed, he said.
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 that 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.
Hardest hit is the community’s Merrick neighborhood where gas and power are still shut off this morning.
"I've never seen anything like this, no,’’ said Fire Chief William Flaherty. “I mean outside of on the TVs down South. You usually see it happening down there. But just the amount of devastation that's down there - the pictures and the news coverage don't do it justice of what it entails."
Overnight, 51 people stayed at a shelter at the community’s middle school. Flaherty said first responders had searched two fully collapsed houses and one partially collapsed house on adjacent streets.
Some 15 miles away in Monson, Bethany Road was one of the areas hardest hit, leaving at least two houses heavily damaged and a second home completely destroyed. Top political leaders, including Governor Deval Patrick and US Senators John F. Kerry and Scott Brown, toured damaged areas today.
Dwight Meacham, 59, stood over the remains of his house at 11 Bethany Road, which was obliterated by the storm. "I just paid the mortgage off last month,'' he said.
Meacham said that when he and his wife, Deborah, drove toward the property last night at around 6:30 p.m. and saw that it had been destroyed, his first thought was "Oh, my God. I wouldn't even let my wife look at it."
Meacham said he bought the home from his grandparents in 1985 and he and his wife plan to rebuild on the same spot. At one point, Patrick approached Meacham and told him that state and federal agencies would be helping homeowners rebuild.
"You're not alone," Patrick said.
Patrick and Kerry also met Bethany Road residents Tony and Kim Slozak.
Kim Slozak said she was home alone with the couple's dog and cat during the storm. All three took refuge in a bathtub. All survived, but Kim Slozak emerged heavily scratched by the pets.
“We just huddled in the tub,’’ she said.
The couple has owned the home for 13 years, having purchased it from a relative.
“I think the house is gone,’’ said Tony Slozak. “We will just have to remove it and build on the same spot.’’
Kim Slozak then reached out to Patrick and exchanged a brief hug, tearing up slightly as she did.
“We are going to make it,’’ she told Patrick. “We are going to be fine.’’
John Tlumacki / Globe Staff
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