At least four people were killed and a number of others were injured in the violent storms that swept across Massachusetts today, which included at least two tornadoes, state officials said today.
Two people were killed in Westfield, one in West Springfield, and one in Brimfield, said Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Governor Deval Patrick said damage had been reported in at least 19 communities, mostly in Central and Western Massachusetts. He declared a state of emergency, saying he was mobilizing up to 1,000 members of the National Guard to help in search and rescue, debris cleanup, and other recovery tasks.
State Police said 33 people were injured in the city of Springfield alone, including five seriously.
Patrick, who held news conferences at the State House and then at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham, said 48,000 customers of National Grid and Western Massachusetts Electric Co. were out of power tonight. No numbers were available from NStar, he said.
Two of the hardest-hit communities were Springfield and the town of Monson, he said.
He said he had recently spoken with Senator Stephen Brewer of Barre, who was on the scene. “He said, you have to see Monson to believe it, and I think he made a reference to the Wizard of Oz, as well,” Patrick said.
Patrick said he planned to head to Western Massachusetts tonight. He also said he had asked superintendents in the affected communities to close their schools on Thursday to clear the way for recovery efforts.
There were at least two confirmed tornadoes, Patrick said, one carving a swath from Westfield east to Douglas, and the other, less-powerful, twister, moving from West Springfield to Sturbridge.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said calls began to come in at 4:30 p.m. of a tornado that appeared to touch down in Westfield, then move from Springfield’s downtown area near the North End Bridge into the East Forest Park neighborhood.
The midnight shift of Troop B, which covers Western Massachusetts, was called in early. The State Police also activated search and rescue and K-9 units due to reports of structural damage and vehicle damage in Springfield.
Among the buildings damaged were Springfield’s courthouse, he said, while vehicle damage included a tractor-trailer that overturned on the city’s Memorial Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River.
State highways are passable in the area but many local roads are blocked by fallen trees, power lines, and other debris. State Police have restricted motorists on Interstate 91 from entering the city, he said.
“We’re prepared to help the police department and fire department do searches of damaged buildings for possible victims,” he said.
He said State Police also responded to vehicles that had apparently been overturned by the storm on Interstate 84 in Sturbridge.
Springfield police last night blocked off a large section of State Street, a main thoroughfare, due to the storm damage. On Maple Street, which is off of State Street, downed trees and large tree limbs lined the path of the apparent tornado. Tow trucks could also be seen pulling damaged vehicles.
Carmen Melendez, 50, a resident of Winthrop Street, said she saw the cloud of debris speeding toward her home when she looked out the window. “I saw a lot of birds. I saw the wind,” she said.
Then, she said, “all the glass blew up” on her porch and window. “It was a disaster.”
She said that when the cloud came, she and her handicapped child dropped to the floor and eventually made it to their bathroom. Nobody was hurt. “It came straight at me. I couldn’t do nothing.” She said police evacuated Winthrop Street because of a gas leak. She and her child plan to stay with her son in Holyoke tonight.
Significant damage has been reported, along with sightings of a tornado, in Agawam, Charlton, Monson, Oxford, Palmer, West Springfield, Wilbraham, and Sturbridge, said Sergeant Michael Popovics, another State Police spokesman.
Popovics said a female had been reported hit by lightning in the town of Charlemont.
National Weather Service meteorologist William Babcock said the agency had reviewed webcam footage of the weather in Springfield that was captured by a local TV station. “From what we saw on that, it definitely looked like a tornado,” he said.
MacLeod, the MEMA spokesman, said the operations center was fully staffed tonight, and officials were working to get “rapid assessment” teams on the ground at first light.
He said officials had still not been able to confirm whether there were any fatalities from the storm.
Western Massachusetts Congressman Richard E. Neal issued a statement saying he would tour the area Thursday himself and intended to seek federal assistance.
“The description of the damage is heartbreaking, but I will do everything I can to make the recovery process start immediately,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched an incident management assistance team to Agawam, and spokesman Dennis Pinkham said the agency planned to monitor further storm activity throughout the night.
“There’s more activity right now in Worcester as we speak,” he said.
Pinkham said FEMA’s administrator for the New England region, Don Boyce, has just finished an extensive briefings with Governor Deval Patrick and MEMA officials and the agency is standing by to offer blankets, food, water and whatever is needed.
“We’re there to support the state and communities with anything they need that we can get,” Pinkham said.
FEMA already had a field office set up in Westfield following snow emergencies declared in the region during the winter. The team dispatched to assist with tornado recovery tonight is called an Incident Management Assistance Team, or IMAT.
US Senator John F. Kerry’s office also said he was traveling to the area tonight to tour the affected areas and assess rescue and recovery efforts.
“Today has been a test of faith for our state and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us in these critical next days,” he said in a statement.
Tornado watches remained in effect for most of the state, in Bristol, Hampden, Norfolk, Worcester, Essex, Hampshire, Plymouth, Franklin, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties until 11 p.m. Weather service radar this evening showed another set of thunderstorms in the Springfield and Worcester area, moving from west to east.
Thunderstorms had swept through Eastern Massachusetts this morning. But that turned out to be only a prelude to the more-violent storms that thundered across the state late this afternoon.
National Weather Service meteorologist William Babcock said the agency would not confirm the number of tornadoes spawned from the storms, but the agency had received at least six reports of separate tornadoes throughout Western Massachusetts.
A survey team was set to investigate today to determine just how many touched down, he said.
Today’s weather is set to be calmer — breezy, with sunny, nearly cloudless skies and temperatures in the upper 60s to lower 70s, he said.
Donovan Slack of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
- NEW: “There was a ton of debris flying around,” a witness says
- Deaths have been reported in Springfield, Westfield and Brimfield, Massachusetts
- “Particularly devastating” tornado damage reported in Springfield
- Gov. Deval Patrick has mobilized National Guard troops to aid cleanup
(CNN) — At least two confirmed tornadoes descended upon towns in western Massachusetts on Wednesday, leaving at least four dead and smashing homes and buildings across a 40-mile stretch, state officials and witnesses reported.
One person was killed in Springfield, two in nearby Westfield and one in Brimfield, about 20 miles east, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters Wednesday night.
The storms struck shortly after 4 p.m. in Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston. Dylan McDonald told CNN he watched the tornado knock down trees and scatter debris across town as he was driving with a co-worker.
“As the light turned green, a tree fell and everything took off,” McDonald said. “We saw a roof fly off an apartment building. The car was tilting, but didn’t turn over.”
As many as 19 communities reported tornado damage Wednesday evening, Patrick said. The governor declared a state of emergency as the storm system that spawned those twisters moved east, with watches posted all the way to the Atlantic coast until late Wednesday.
“It’s been particularly devastating in downtown Springfield,” Patrick said. And he said a local official told him, “You have to see Monson to believe it.”
At J.T.’s Sports Pub, on Springfield’s Main Street, owner Keith Makarowski said he and the 10 or so patrons intially went outside to watch the darkening skies — then retreated as the storm blew into downtown.
“There was a ton of debris flying around, lots of roof shingles and random siding,” Makarowski said. Several century-old buildings were damaged — “roofs torn off, facades ravaged, trees uprooted” — and a woman across the street was blown up against a building after being caught outside.
“Luckily, two people from inside the building were able to pull her in, and she seemed like she was OK,” Makarowski said.
Massachusetts State Police Sgt. Michael Popovics said Springfield, Monson, Westfield and seven other towns — Agawam, Charlton, Oxford, Palmer, Sturbridge, West Springfield and Wilbraham — reported severe damage. Sandra Ahearn, a spokeswoman for the Western Massachusetts Electric Co., said 12,000 customers were without power in the utility’s service area and that hard-hit areas might not have electricity until the end of the week.
Patrick said he has mobilized 1,000 National Guard troops to assist with cleanup and search-and-rescue operations. The Massachusetts State Police said it had activated dog teams to look for people in damaged buildings and described many streets in Springfield as “impassable” due to fallen power lines and trees.
The damage came amid a wave of heavy thunderstorms that moved through the Northeast on Wednesday afternoon. Tornado watches were also issued for northern Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine until 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Though not as tornado-prone as much of the Midwest or South, Massachusetts has averaged two to three twisters per year since 1950, according to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1953, a massive tornado that struck Worcester and nearby towns killed 90 people, according to NOAA; the last tornado to hit the state was in 2008.
CNN’s Anna Gonzalez, Matt Smith, Leigh Remizowski, Julia Talanova and Sean Morris contributed to this report.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says four people are dead after at least two tornadoes swept through western and central parts of the state.
He said two people died in Westfield, one in West Springfield and one in the town of Brimfield. He said he did not have details about the circumstances.
The storms have also caused an unknown number of injuries and extensive damage.
Patrick declared a state of emergency and called up 1,000 National Guard troops.
1 of the tornadoes struck in Springfield, the state’s third largest city.
Massachusetts State Police have activated Emergency Response. JFK Middle and Kiley Schools open for shelters. Mass Mutual Center is set up for a meeting/information center. Minnechaug Regional High School is also open as a shelter.
Mercy Hospital and Baystate Medical Center have gone into Disaster Mode.
Tornadoes cause heavy damage in WMass
Stay with 22News for the latest
Updated: Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 9:57 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 4:47 PM EDT
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Multiple tornadoes caused damage across Western Massachusetts Wednesday afternoon, including one that caused heavy damage in Springfield’s Downtown and South End neighborhoods.
At least four people have died in the aftermath of the tornado, which crossed the Connecticut River from West Springfield into the city, crossing the Connecticut River and Interstate 91.
Governor Deval Patrick told the Associated Press that one person was killed in West Springfield, two in Westfield, and one in Brimfield. West Springfield Police Captain O’Brien told 22News that that a man was travelling in his car down Main Street in West Springfield, when a tree fell on top of it during the storm, killing him. There are at least 20 other reports of injuries.
Governor Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency, and 1,000 National Guard troops are headed to affected areas.
Tornado touches down in downtown Spfld
Stay with 22News for the latest
Updated: Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 5:01 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 4:47 PM EDT
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A tornado has touched down in Downtown Springfield and toward the city’s South End and East Longmeadow.
The tornado had crossed the Connecticut River from Agawam and West Springfield into the city, crossing the Connecticut River and Interstate 91.
The 22News Springfield Skycam captured images of the tornado as it crossed the river, as well as downed trees at Riverfront Park in Springfield.
Traffic on the Memorial Bridge is heavily backed-up. A tractor trailer had overturned there.
22News is at Main and Union Streets in the South End, where there is heavy damage. 22News is continuing to follow reports of damages. There are no confirmed deaths at this time.
22News is continuing to follow this breaking news story. Stay with 22News and WWLP.com for the latest.
Hamza al-Khateeb used to love it when the rains came to his small corner of southern Syria, filling up the farmers’ irrigation channels enough so that he and the other children could jump in and swim.But the drought of the last few years had left the 13-year-old without the fun of his favourite pool.Instead, he’d taken to raising homing pigeons, standing on the roof of his family’s simple breeze-block home, craning his neck back to see the birds circling above the wide horizon of fields, where wheat and tomatoes were grown from the tough, scrubby soils.
Though not from a wealthy family himself, Hamza was always aware of others less fortunate than himself, said a cousin who spoke to Al Jazeera.
“He would often ask his parents for money to give to the poor. I remember once he wanted to give someone 100 Syrian Pounds ($2), and his family said it was too much. But Hamza said, ‘I have a bed and food while that guy has nothing.’ And so he persuaded his parents to give the poor man the 100.”
In the hands of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, however, Hamza found no such compassion, his humanity degraded to nothing more than a lump of flesh to beat, burn, torture and defile, until the screaming stopped at last.
Arrested during a protest in Saida, 10km east of Daraa, on April 29, Hamza’s body was returned to his family on Tuesday 24th May, horribly mutilated.
The child had spent nearly a month in the custody of Syrian security, and when they finally returned his corpse it bore the scars of brutal torture: Lacerations, bruises and burns to his feet, elbows, face and knees, consistent with the use of electric shock devices and of being whipped with cable, both techniques of torture documented by Human Rights Watch as being used in Syrian prisons during the bloody three-month crackdown on protestors.
Hamza’s eyes were swollen and black and there were identical bullet wounds where he had apparently been shot through both arms, the bullets tearing a hole in his sides and lodging in his belly.
On Hamza’s chest was a deep, dark burn mark. His neck was broken and his penis cut off.
“Where are the human rights committees? Where is the International Criminal Court?” asks the voice of the man inspecting Hamza’s body on a video uploaded to YouTube.
“A month had passed by with his family not knowing where he was, or if or when he would be released. He was released to his family as a corpse. Upon examining his body, the signs of torture are very clear.”
The original clip has since been removed, but a version with Hamza’s castrated genitals blurred is still running [Note: this video is extremely graphic].
“When Hamza’s mother came to see the body she was only shown his face,” said the cousin, who was present at the time.
“We tried to tell the father not to look, but he pulled the blanket back. When he saw Hamza’s body he fainted. People ran to help him and some started filming – it was chaos.”
‘He just disappeared’
April 29 was dubbed “The Friday of Ending the siege on Deraa”, the border city where the torture of children had lit the spark for the Syrian uprising and where Maher al-Assad’s forces lead the assault on a civilian population that killed hundreds.
Hamza didn’t burn for politics, said his cousin, “but everybody seemed to be going to the protest, so he went along as well,” walking with friends and family the 12km along the road from his home town of Jeezah north-west to Saida.
The firing began almost as soon as the villagers reached the edge of Saida, said the cousin.
“People were killed and wounded, some were arrested. It was chaotic we didn’t know at that point what had happened to Hamza. He just disappeared.”
A second source from the region, an activist, also spoke to Al Jazeera, confirming that Hamza had been among 51 protesters detained on April 29, he said, by Airforce Intelligence, which a number of detainees have reported as using brutal torture.
“They were all arrested by the anti-terrorism branch of the Airforce Intelligence,” said the activist.
“They were all alive when they went into prison, but we received 13 bodies back this week and all had been tortured. The Airforce Intelligence are notorious for torture, they’re barbarians. We’re expecting another dozen bodies back in the coming days.”
Responding to the video of Hamza’s mutilated body, Syria’s only private TV station, the pro-regime Al Dunia, aired an interview (Arabic) with a forensic doctor from Damascus’ Tishreen Militarily Hospital.
Dr. Akram al-Shaar, who claimed to have supervised the autopsy of Hamza in Tishreen, said he found no signs of torture, claiming the marks on Hamza’s body had been caused by natural decomposition.
Dr Shaar’s testimony, however, is also the first public admission by a Syrian official that civilians arrested or injured or killed during the military assault on the Deraa region have been collected and transported to security facilities in Damascus.
Earlier this month, the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies (DCHRS) reported that the bodies of 244 civilians killed in the military assault on Deraa had been transported to Tishreen Military hospital, consistent with an apparent systematic regime campaign, first reported by Al Jazeera, to disrupt the treatment of dead and dying protestors.
After Hamza’s body was filmed so the world could see how he died, the boy was buried in Jizah after last prayers for his soul in the local mosque. Following the ceremony, children walked through the streets of Jizah holding up a photo of Hamza and a banner that said he died a martyr, 13-years-old, under the brutal torture of the security forces.
All foreign media are barred from Syria but experienced local journalists and human rights researchers found no reason to doubt the authenticity of the footage of Hamza.
Hamza was 13 years old when he was seized by Syrian security forces [Facebook]
‘A crime against humanity’
Hamza’s father, Ali al-Khateeb, wanted to press charges against the army and security forces, said Hamza’s cousin. Instead, Ali and his wife were visited by the secret police and threatened.
“They said: ‘Enough of what has happened because of you already. You know what would happen if we heard you had spoken to the media,’” said Hamza’s mother, clearly terrified as she spoke to the local activist, refusing to give further details on the circumstances of her son’s arrest or death.
Hamza’s father was briefly detained late Saturday afternoon, said his wife, after the secret police demanded he tell state media that Hamza was killed by armed Salafists, Sunni Muslim extremists, which the regime has claimed are driving the popular uprising.
“The father was asked to go to the security branch for half an hour so they could tell him their point of view about Hamza,” said the cousin. “He was well treated.”
Torture in Syrian prisons, long known as some of the worst in the world, is now “rampant” according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
“When you have mass execution and torture it rises to the level of a crime against humanity. In Syria, it appears clear that this has become widespread and systematic,” said Ricken Patel, director of Avaaz, which has been documenting human rights abuses in the country.
“This is a campaign of mass terrorism and intimidation: Horribly tortured people sent back to communities by a regime not trying to cover up its crimes, but to advertise them.”
If advertising its crimes is indeed the regime’s strategy then it appears to be working: Within hours of the video of Hamza’s mutilated body going online a protest broke out in Daraa city by hundreds of furious residents, defying the ongoing military siege to express their outrage at Hamza’s torture and killing.
“People here are really furious about what happened to Hamza and this is another sign that the secret police and the authorities are criminals who cannot be trusted to make any reforms,” said the activist, who travels widely in the Deraa region.
A week after his body was returned, a Facebook page dedicated to Hamza had more than 60,000 followers, under the title, “We are all Hamza al-Khateeb“, a deliberate echo of the online campaign on behalf of Khaled Saeed, the young Egyptian whose death in police custody last year proved a trigger for the revolution in Cairo.
From the other end of Syria, in the far north-east, Rezan Mustapha, spokesman of the opposition Kurdish Future Movement said he and others had also seen the horrifying footage.
“This video moved not only every single Syrian, but people worldwide. It is unacceptable and inexcusable. The horrible torture was done to terrify demonstrators and make them stop calling for their demands.”
But, said Khateeb, protestors would only be spurred on by such barbarity.
“More people will now go to the street. We hold the Syrian secret police fully responsible for the torturing and killing of this child, even if they deny it.”
Some reactions didn’t need any words at all. Though only one among his 20 other children from two wives, Hamza’s 65-year-old father Ali appeared no less devastated by Hamza’s murder than if he had lost his only son.
“How would any family feel if they saw that video of their own child?” asked Hamza’s cousin. “I have never seen Hamza’s father cry in his entire life. Now we see only tears in his eyes.”
In a statement released on Wednesday, the New York-based rights body said interviews with victims and witnesses indicate “systematic killings, beatings, torture using electroshock devices, and detention of people seeking medical care”.
It said abuses by Syrian authorities “strongly suggest that these qualify as crimes against humanity”.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by security forces and 10,000 detained since demonstrations first erupted in mid-March, according to human rights groups.
A large explosion has gone off near a hotel in the eastern Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
The blast was caused by at least one car which was parked near the city’s Tibesti Hotel, according to reports.
Benghazi is where the uprising began against the rule of embattled Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.
Television footage showed cars on fire beside the hotel. It is not yet clear if anyone was injured or what caused the explosion.