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Western Massachusetts residents assessing damages from 'microbursts'

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Suzanne McLaughlin, The Republican

Still reeling from the June 1 tornado, residents of Western Massachusetts Wednesday were assessing the damage caused by Thursday’s thunderstorm.

Preliminary indications were that Tuesday’s late afternoon storm damage was caused by "microbursts," a spokesman for the National Weather Service at Taunton said.

“Picture heavy winds striking the ground from the thunderstorm, then radiating out, like when a rock hits the water,” National Weather Service meteorologist Rebecca Gould said.

Heavily hit communities included Chicopee, Holyoke, Springfield and Wilbraham.

According to a National Weather Service Public Information Statement issued Wednesday night, the strongest winds were estimated at between 90 and 100 miles per hour in Wilbraham, based on tree damage.

In Wilbraham the area hit by the storm included the area hit by the June 1 tornado.

Heather Mercier has been living in a mobile home at her house on Tinkham Road while her house, heavily damaged in the tornado, is repaired.

During Tuesday’s storm a tree fell on the mobile home the insurance company provided, which was set up in the backyard.


Power crews from National Grid were working throughout the day in Wilbraham and Hampden restoring power.

Amy Zorich, spokesman for National Grid, said power should be restored to most of Hampden and Wilbraham by midnight Wednesday.

Western Massachusetts Electric Company also was working to restore power to its customers in Western Massachusetts who lost power. In most communities power had been restored to all but one percent of customers.

In Springfield, the owner of the Bircham Bend Mobile Home Park on Grochmal Avenue in Indian Orchard said the storm caused significant damage, including toppled trees and the loss of power.


Robert Hassett, the city’s emergency preparedness director, said that approximately 3,000 customers were left without power in Springfield when the storm hit.

No significant injuries were reported in Springfield.

The brunt of the storm in Springfield was in a pathway from the Parker Street area to Indian Orchard, he said.

Western Massachusetts Electric Co., brought in crews from New Hampshire and the Boston area to assist with the cleanup and restoration of power, Hassett said.

In Chicopee, Kenneth Jimmo hunkered down in his mobile home park at Knollwood Estates with two of his sons as Tuesday afternoon’s violent weather hit.


Jeffrey Cady, general manager of Chicopee Electric Light, said some 5,000 to 6,000 of the municipal utility’s 26,000 customers were left without power in the aftermath of the storm.

Municipal electric company crews, some from as far away as Norwood and Wellesley, managed to reduce that number to as low as 400 or 500 when a problem with a circuit once again swelled the number of those without power.

Cady said he is hopeful that Chicopee’s power will be completely restored by Thursday night.

“For people without power, they don’t care if it’s a thunderstorm or a tornado,” Mayor Michael Bissonnette said. “They just want their power back on.”


Bissonnette said he and a number of other Chicopee residents had been surprised by the suddenness of the violent weather. “This came out of nowhere,” he said.


Staff reporters Brian Steele, George Graham, Peter Goonan and Mike Plaisance contributed to this report.