Mass. Gov. Patrick Reflects on Deadly Tornadoes | NECN

Mass. Gov. Patrick Reflects on Deadly Tornadoes



    Patrick declared a state of emergency across the Commonwealth when 4 tornadoes devastated communities in western Mass. (Published Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014)

    (NECN: Ally Donnelly) - Sitting in his office at the State House on Thursday, Mass. Governor Deval Patrick said, "At first, I was - I just couldn't believe it, I'm from the Midwest, so I know about tornadoes and you don't get tornadoes in the Northeast."
    But on June 1, 2011, Massachusetts did. In fact, the Bay State had four of them, and Governor Patrick was at the helm, declaring a state of emergency across the Commonwealth.

    In a scrambled-together press conference that fateful night, the Governor warned residents, "If you have a basement, get in it."

    After gathering what scant information he could at the state's emergency management bunker - Governor Patrick rushed to West Springfield, Mass. to see for himself what Mother Nature had unleashed in moments.

    "We walked down the street where one of a number of triple deckers had been flattened," he said. "Downed wires, some flooding, one car was pushed up against another and then you'd go, you know a half a block and nothing was touched, you know, a few leaves off the trees and it was extraordinary that way."

    Over what would be a long day into night Patrick toured the communities hardest hit - Springfield, Monson and Brimfield - by ground and air.

    "One of the things I saw was a school bus lying on its side in a swamp, maybe three-quarters of a mile from the nearest road," Patrick said.

    He went to shelters and heard about hurt loved ones, lost pets, homes - all of it gone.

    "Mostly people were confused and frightened and grateful, if not astonished that there hadn't been more loss of life," he said.

    But there was loss of life. Three people died because of the storm including a West Springfield, Mass. mother who stretched her body over her daughter's in the bathtub to save her teenager's life.

    "This story strikes most parents as tragic, but totally predictable, right? It's what we would do, right? We'd walk through fire for our children," Patrick said.

    It's that sense of resiliency the Governor clings to - the acts of selflessness and kindness that push up like daffodils in spring.

    "The way that people turned to each to their neighbors - helped each other, comforted each other," he said. "That sense of common cause that's been a big part of the reason why we've made as much progress as we have over the last year."

    As for progress, Patrick says 98 percent of nearly 12,000 insurance claims have been paid, more than $20 million in disaster assistance has been given to individuals and hundreds of homes have been repaired or rebuilt.

    "There was a door to door effort in every single community to see who was hurt, what was damaged, who needed medications," he said.

    Are there things the state could have done better, we asked?

    "I don't, I don't think of a single thing I think we might have done better," he said.

    But Patrick knows there are still people sitting on stoops that have no houses attached, mailboxes collecting letters where no one lives, businesses still shuttered.

    "It's tough a year in to say be patient. It's tough, right? Because they've been patient a long time," he said. "And to have devastation like this come through in a matter of minutes and then take so many months to rebuild has got to be frustrating."

    Frustrations, the Governor hopes, the Commonwealth can weather.