THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
A PATH OF DESTRUCTION

On one street, fates diverged

Total destruction for some; others lightly damaged

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By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / June 3, 2011

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SPRINGFIELD— All that is left of David Gawron’s Cape-style home is a mangled clump of wood and sheetrock resting against a large tree on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“That’s actually my second floor over there, the whole piece,’’ said Gawron, a 37-year-old office procurement worker, as he sifted through the wreckage, looking for his wallet, cellphone, and any other remnants of his life.

But diagonally across the street, a single-level, red-brick Colonial had only three broken windows and several large oak trees deposited on the lawn. At the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a home had been ripped from the foundation, while the house across from it had only a few missing shingles.

Wednesday’s tornado struck with a capricious violence, demolishing some neighborhoods while leaving others untouched. It ripped the roofs off certain buildings, and just tore the siding off others.

On this badly damaged street in central Springfield, the storm’s hit-and-miss quality was clear yesterday, as some residents scrounged for their belongings while others counted their blessings.

Gawron, who neighbors said is known for having the best-maintained lawn on the street, sat on his front steps yesterday — the only part of his house that remains.

He recounted how the tornado came without much warning, but just enough for him to scramble to his basement. Within seconds, everything above him — the half-century old house where he has lived for two years — was torn apart.

Bonnie Light, his neighbor whose Colonial was barely touched, visited Gawron and offered words of encouragement.

Moments earlier, Light stood in front of her house and talked about her good fortune. “I feel very lucky. I think it was the angle that the tornado came in. It missed us but it went that way,’’ said Light, 62, as she pointed toward Gawron’s house.

There are a 13 houses on Pennsylvania Avenue between South Branch Parkway and Ithaca Street, and most sustained moderate to heavy damage. Splintered trees lay draped across houses and rested on cars parked outside. A dark sedan had been overturned by the force of a tornado and came to rest on its roof in front of Gawron’s house.

In the back of one home, a second-floor bedroom and a ground-floor study had been torn away. A portion of carpeted floor lay on the backyard, and not far away, a massive above-ground pool was filled with debris.

As the hours passed yesterday, homeowners sifted through mounds of debris looking for pictures, jewelry, appliances, and anything else that appeared salvageable as stories of sporadic overnight looting traveled down the street.

National Guard soldiers, on foot and in vehicles, patrolled the neighborhood, as did Springfield police officers, some in cruisers and some on mountain bikes.

And then there were the spectators.

Residents from nearby streets and even people who had heard on television about the devastation on Pennsylvania Avenue came by the dozen, walking up and down the street, with looks of disbelief as they snapped pictures.

The onlookers clustered in front of a home and pointed at the crumbled walls. The house had been completely ripped from the foundation, reduced to a pile of rubble.

Michael Bynum, who has owned the house for five years, said the storm took him by surprise.

“The wind was picking up, so I looked outside my second-floor window and I saw parts of houses blowing by,’’ he said. “Before I had time to react, the tornado hit the house and I was getting thrown around and the debris was hitting me and flying by. The next thing I knew, I’m lying on the front lawn and the house is gone. The chimney just missed falling on me, and that shower stall over there just missed me too. I was lying between the two of them.’’

Bynum, 50, sustained a large gash on his arm that required several stitches, but he was otherwise unhurt. “My basement is filled with bricks,’’ he said, “so I know if I had gone down there, I would have been killed, no doubt.’’

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.