'Like A Freight Train': Owner Of Brimfield Campground Recalls Deadly 2011 Tornado

The sound of an EF3 Tornado is not something you can forget, even 10 years later. WBZ-TV's Sarah Wroblewski reports.

Video Transcript

LISA HUGHES: Now at 6:00, today marks 10 years since a deadly tornado devastated parts of Central and Western Massachusetts.

DAVID WADE: Our chief meteorologist Eric Fisher was actually there 10 years ago. And he's live in Springfield with us tonight with a look back. Eric.

ERIC FISHER: David and Lisa, you could travel to Oklahoma or Alabama or Georgia or Tennessee and see some of their worst tornadoes. And I can tell you from on the ground here around Springfield, it looked as bad as any of those storms, the places you think about tornadoes more than you do here in New England.

And very few were prepared for what came over the Connecticut River that day. One of the worst storms in the history of Massachusetts. And today, they did have a moment of silence at 4:38 here in the heart of the city, right around Court Square.

4:38, when that tornado came right into downtown, took a hard turn, came up through the East Forrest Park neighborhood, damaged schools, homes, and then continued to grow, reaching its peak width about a half mile wide, making its way into Monson and Brimfield.

It looked like something straight out of the plains, but it was right here in Massachusetts. So many people affected, so many people terrified that afternoon. One spot in particular had some extremely harrowing moments, a campground in Brimfield. WBZ's Sarah Wroblewski takes a look at their story.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: Big freight train coming, or a jet. It was just the roar.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: The sound of an EF3 tornado is not something Lester Twarowski can forget even 10 years later.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: You hear the wind whistling. For the first couple years, I slept with one eye open.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: He owns Village Green Family Campground in Brimfield and can still recall the moments of June 1, 2011.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: The wind was blowing this way all day. And then all of a sudden, the air above stopped moving except for about 3 feet high. It was like undertow in the ocean. And then I knew. I got everybody that I could into the cellar.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: This is the spot right here where everybody huddled together either side of this threshold to ride out 20 seconds of ferocious wind.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: Everybody was screaming as loud as they could, crying and all of that. And you couldn't hear anybody. If you stuck your hand out the side of the house, you would lose your hand with the stuff that was flying by.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: It was a direct hit for the campground.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: I stuck my head in the door, and I told my wife and the people in there that everything's gone.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: The campground was covered with snapped trees and twisted metal. Over 120 campers were destroyed, one flipping over and killing a woman inside.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: I really try not to think about it because it's sad.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: The emotion's still raw when talking about his son arriving moments after the storm.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: He got stopped by the police, and the cop says, you can't go there. He says, I don't care. I live there.


LESTER TWAROWSKI: Yup. It's hard talking about it, not crying.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: Chainsaws and tractors became a constant sound that summer from all the volunteers.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: They were here for months. Time and effort will always fix something.

SARAH WROBLEWSKI: The campground looks a bit different now. There are new buildings, paths, and campers. And as new trees continue to grow, the ones that remain are a symbol of resilience and a reminder of how Village Green Family Campground weathered the storm.

LESTER TWAROWSKI: Let's just leave them because people like seeing them, the survivors, because that's what we were.


ERIC FISHER: Such a difficult situation for them, and really a miracle that only one person was killed. But that resilience Sarah talked about, that was evident in every town along the path. In Monson and Wilbraham and Westfield and here in Springfield, where essentially the entire downtown is rebuilt.

If you haven't taken a trip to Springfield, be surprised what it looks like here with all the new building, the recovery that took place, and all the people who pitched in after the storm. It's a reminder that the big ones don't happen often, but they do come to New England. We'll talk a little bit more about this and take a look at our forecast ahead as well coming up in a bit. For now, David and Lisa, we'll send it back to you.

LISA HUGHES: All right, Eric, thanks so much.