(Text copyright (c) 2011 Cynthia Shenette; Photo is not under copyright and is available from the Internet Archive. )
According to Mom June 9, 1953 was a hot day. A really hot day. She left work and was walking from her office in the Federal Building up Main Street to the bus stop in front of Barnard's department store when the sky started to get dark. When she heard thunder she decided to wait at the front of the store under cover, because rain seemed imminent. It wasn't long before the rain started.
Even fifty years later she remembered the storm, vividly. She described it as a "a wild storm" with a black sky, thunder, lightening, and an intense driving rain. It was nothing like she had ever seen before. When the storm finally stopped she started to hear sirens. Lots of them. One after another. Emergency vehicles--police cars, fire trucks, ambulances--racing up Main St. to the north part of the city. She said it wasn't long before emergency vehicles began to return back down Main St., sirens still blaring. Again, fifty years later, my mom's most vivid memory besides the storm itself, was of seeing pick-up trucks carrying dozens of bloody, wounded people down Main St. to hospitals around Worcester. There were too many injured people and not enough ambulances to transport everyone.
When my mom finally did get home she was relieved to find everything was okay. My grandmother, who was at home at the time, described an awful storm. The family home, the home where I later grew up, was near Indian Lake in Worcester. My grandmother said that after the storm passed, she looked out at the lake and saw huge, churning waves like you might see on a stormy day at the ocean. My mother and her family still had no idea what had happened. They didn't know that a massive tornado, one mile in width, had just blown through the city less than two miles away from their home. They were the lucky ones.
For my family the tornado was a close call, and given the losses other people suffered, more like an inconvenience. My parents wedding was scheduled June 13, and there was some doubt as to whether they would be able to hold their wedding reception in Sterling, two towns north of Worcester. The wedding guests were able to drive around and through the areas of destruction, and the reception went on as scheduled.
The Worcester tornado left a path of destruction through Petersham, Barre, Rutland, Holden, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westboro, and Southboro. A second funnel cloud spun off the initial storm near Grafton to travel southeast eventually ending in the Wrentham area. When all was said and done 94 lives were lost, 15,000 were left homeless, 4,000 homes were destroyed, and the storm did damage to the tune of $53 million, in 1953 dollars.
My mother said that no one had ever heard of a tornado in Massachusetts. Certainly not one with that kind of power. Tornadoes were not classified according to the current Enhanced Fujita Scale in 1953 as they are today. The Worcester tornado is currently classified as a EF4, though I have heard that it was a strong F4, possibly even an F5. Last week's devastating series of tornadoes in Massachusetts are a painful reminder, that yes, it can happen here.
Tornado!: 84 Minutes, 94 Lives, is a wonderful book written by local Worcester author John M. O'Toole. The book, written in 1993 and still available through Amazon, is an "...eyewitness story of the tornado with the highest winds ever recorded," a true statement when the book was published. The record for highest winds stood until the Oklahoma City tornado of 1999. Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy wrote a great post a couple of weeks ago about the Worcester Tornado. I also invite you to read Susan Clark's wonderful post, Our Places - Those Places Thursday if you haven't already. Her post is one of those pieces that makes me want to say, "What she said..." Finally, the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts is accepting donations for tornado disaster relief. Please donate if you can.
Yes, it can happen here...
Other Posts You Might Like:
Worcester Tornado Memorial - TombstoneTuesday
Where I Grew Up - Wordless Wednesday
The Stories My Grandmother Told Me