SPRINGFIELD, MA (June 3, 2011) – The tornado that killed at least four people in Massachusetts on Wednesday passed over a school located next to the Evangelical Covenant Church’s parking lot.
The school’s windows were blown out and the church sustained only minor damage, but roughly 100 trees were strewn across the surrounding two-block area, said Pastor Mike Mirakian. Orchard Covenant Church in Indian Orchard sustained little damage.
No injuries to church members have been reported. At least one family that attends the Springfield church was displaced when trees fell on the roof of their home. The business of an Indian Orchard church also sustained heavy damage.
Youth pastor Tim Ramgren and several other staff members of the Springfield congregation were preparing for Wednesday night activities when they looked out a window and saw the tornado pass over the school. Several people had close calls, arriving home or at the church just in time to take cover.
There were about 100 trees knocked down in the two-block area around the church, said Mirakian. Many of them were large oak trees that were ripped from the ground or sheered about eight feet up their trunks.
Mirakian was able to drive within a half mile of the church, but had to walk the rest of the way because of felled trees. National Guard members were controlling access the neighborhood.
Because the area has no sirens, most people did not know a tornado was approaching unless they had been watching the news. “We saw the wind and the rain and just thought it was a thunderstorm,” said Mirakian.
Although Mirakian lives a quarter mile from the tornado’s path he had no idea it had rampaged through the area until someone called him shortly afterward. Despite the narrow swath cut by the tornado, up to 19 communities reported damage. At least one person was killed in Springfield, two in nearby Westfield and one in Brimfield, about 20 miles east.
Mirakian said the church could be without power through the weekend. The local utility company will be using the parking lot as a staging area over the next several days while putting up 40 new poles.
People are charging cell phones in their cars, said Mirakian, whose own phone was about out of power. “You don’t realize how dependent you are on electricity until you can’t use your cell phones or access the Internet.”
Access to the building will determine whether services are held Sunday. If so, Mirakian said, “We’ll probably have prayer service and then send people out into the community to help.”