In Springfield, Tornado Cleanup Begins

By Jess Bidgood

June 3, 2011

Photos: Cleanup in Springfield(Jess Bidgood/WGBH) 

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Peter Zubenko went to work at the Red Rose Pizzeria in Springfield on Thursday, just like he has for the past 20 years. But instead of serving pizza, he worked outside, piling debris on a dolly and trying to avoid broken glass.
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen this kind of mess,” Zubenko said.

The Red Rose is on Main Street in Springfield’s South End, right in the path of one of the tornadoes that tore through Western Massachusetts on Wednesday. On Friday, the National Weather Service confirmed it was a level EF3 storm with winds as high as 160 miles per hour.

A soldier guards cleanup efforts on Main St. in Springfield. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH) 

On Wednesday night, a large storm system spawned multiple tornados that tore through towns like Springfield, Brimfield, Monson and West Springfield. The tornados devastated neighborhoods, leveling homes and leaving residents scaling piles of rubble, trying to make sense of the damage. State officials say 88 buildings were destroyed in West Springfield; and 77 in Monson.
Springfield lost 35 buildings to the storm, and city officials reported over 200 injuries. But by Thursday afternoon, shock and fear from the storm was giving way to a effort by troops, safety officials and residents to begin putting their city back together.
In Court Square, a worker took a chainsaw to tree that lay on its side – one of several that had blown over like pick-up sticks in the park.
Sandy Finley cried as she looked on. She grew up here.

“I used to come down and play when I was a kid, down here in the South End. I used to hang out, had a lot of friends down here. Now there’s buildings that are torn down, they’re gone,” Finley said.

Peter Zubenko cleans up debris around the Red Rose Pizzeria, where he has worked for 20 years. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

Further down Main Street, a seemingly fatigued Daniel Roy looked up at a building with its vertical blinds poking out of what used to be windows. Huge shards of glass almost pealed underneath his feet as he walked.
Roy works for his family’s ABC Glassworks, and was about to board up at least his twentieth building on Main Street alone.
“We’re all a little tired, we’ve all been out all night, the whole crew,” Roy said. “Boarding up a lot of windows, a lot of broken windows for all kinds of businesses around here.”
On Howard Street, just off of Main Street, an entire side of the South End Community Center had collapsed. Across the way, a group of former prisoners in a community service program called the Key Project hoisted huge pieces of roof and siding away from buildings, into a parking lot.
Zubenko was still at work, cleaning up around the Red Rose. Luckily, he said, the inside of the place hadn’t been affected by the storm. “We’ll be open (Friday) night,” he said. “We have to be.”

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