Update on New England storms

June 03, 2011

by Alexx Wood, with additional reporting by Evie Doyon and Heidi Chamberland.

Tornados and severe weather ripped through Western Massachusetts on June 1 leaving a path of destruction behind, including causing the deaths of 3 people.

The storm caused significant impact and damage to both residential and downtown areas in Springfield MA, Monson MA, and across the region. Hundreds of residents have been displaced, and thousands are still without power. A Westfield elementary school and a Catholic High School in Springfield, along with Springfield College also suffered great loss.

District Superintendent Heidi Chamberland visited many of the affected areas following the storms, and reports that “our pastors and churches are reaching out to check on parishioners, offering prayer and pastoral support to their community while working with town officials and agencies to assess the greater community needs.”

New information on damage to UM churches from the storms is also coming in, with reports of roofing and water damage at Oxford UMC and East Longmeadow UMC, and fortunately only some slight damage to the Monson UMC, where the town was devastated and 3 other churches were significantly damaged. Downed trees also damaged the unoccupied First UMC building in West Springfield.

Emergency response.

In this early stage in Western Massachusetts, state emergency preparedness workers are in place to respond to immediate needs. Red Cross, the National Guard, and thousands of utility workers from other areas have been called in to help restore electricity and meet immediate community needs.

After the work of these first responders, the Conference has trained Emergency Response Teams who can go in to help clear damage and assist residents. Additional help, including the formation of work teams for Western Massachusetts, is being organized through Volunteers-in-Mission (vimnecumc@charter.net), and also through the Connecticut/Western Massachusetts District Office (www.neumc.org/ctwma). There may also be an opportunity for local churches to provide food, shelter, and other assistance for those who have possibly been displaced by these storms. More information will be provided as the extent of the needs becomes clearer.

As we are still in the assessment phase, churches are being asked to hold off on sending monetary donations to the Conference, but can support the UMCOR Spring Storms Advance #3021326, of which 100% of all donations go directly to emergency response for victims of tornados, floods, etc. caused by the Spring Storms of 2011 across the US, including New England. The conference has already been in contact with UMCOR and is receiving emergency assistance.

Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference will be traveling to some of the affected areas this weekend, and we continue to be in touch with our pastors in the region. The conference office is coordinating on disaster response with Doug Spanks and Stacey Bullock, co-coordinators of disaster response for the Conference, as well as with Dave Stackpole, Volunteers-in-Mission coordinator. In addition, our neighboring Conferences of New York and Upper New York are offering prayers, support and encouragement and are ready to provide any assistance necessary.

Vermont storm response also underway.

This is just the latest in a band of storms moving through New England in the past few weeks. Last weekend storms dropped 5-6 inches of rain in a few hours in many places, and Vermont has also suffered millions of dollars of damage in floods, and the emergency response is continuing. The rain filled rivers beyond capacity and now the rivers are flowing into Lake Champlain which was already beyond flood stage. Roads have been washed out, homes and businesses damaged, some beyond repair. Long term effects on the lake are unknown at this time.

The Vermont District Emergency Response efforts are being headed up by Pastor Bill Elwell. They are in need of the temporary use of an enclosed trailer for storing tools, equipment, generators, etc. If anyone could provide a trailer, please contact Bill at rescueme97@yahoo.com. Please continue to pray for all those affected by the tornados and severe weather in Western and Central Massachusetts, as well as the people, homes, business, environment, and ecology of Vermont. More updates will be sent as information becomes available. 

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Downed power lines and damaged homes in the East Forest Park neighborhood in Springfield, Mass.
(photo by Jacob Mueller)