A year later; Year of ups, downs.
BRIMFIELD - It's been almost a year since a vicious tornado churned through this community and upended the lives of many people. The initial feelings were ones of thankfulness that they had survived. Then came the reality of coping with damaged or destroyed homes and land. The Telegram & Gazette has been following three families on three roads that experienced the worst of the destruction in less than a minute. Staff reporters George Barnes, Kim Ring and Craig Semon focus today on what their lives are like now.
BRIMFIELD - Sitting in her kitchen, thinking about the past year and efforts to recover from the tornado that nearly destroyed her and her husband's home and business on Hollow Road, Linda Weston said it has been difficult for her.
"I'm able to go out and do things now, but some days I still find myself wanting to stay in here and hide," she said.
Mrs. Weston said she experienced depression and stress in the months after the June 1, 2011, tornado hit; the worst point being when their teamsters, a key part of Hollow Brook Farms, told them they had to find some other place to stay.
Robin Burns, one of the teamsters, was in the Westons' barn when the EF-3 tornado leveled it. She survived, but suffered injuries and trauma. The 10 horses were moved to another farm because there was no shelter for them. Ms. Burns planned to stay, but in the fall, with the Westons running into problems getting a building permit to rebuild their barn, she and teamster Matthew MacLean decided they could not spend the winter in a small trailer, commuting to feed the horses.
Ms. Burns and Mr. MacLean care for the farm's horses and drive carriages for special events the business services.
Mrs. Weston said it was the low point for her when Ms. Burns and Mr. MacLean came to them and said they had to leave.
"They're family to us. We love them," she said. "That's when I fell apart."
Since then, Mrs. Weston has found ways to deal with the stress and move forward. She reads and it helped when her husband surprised her in January by buying a beautiful Cinderella-style carriage to use for weddings and other special events. And she has hope the teamsters will return when the barn is rebuilt this summer. Still, she deals with it day-to-day.
"I've reached my limit on stress," she said. "I just kind of tune it out."
Recently something brought a smile to her face. She found a steel wire shaped into a heart that was stuck on one of the broken trees along the road next to their land. She suspects it was someone's romantic or symbolic idea. She plans to take it home as a keepsake.
Ron and Linda Weston own seven of the 19 properties damaged or destroyed when the tornado plowed through their neighborhood on the afternoon of June 1. The Westons were luckier than some of their neighbors in some ways because they could still live in their home after the storm. The house was damaged but not so much that it was dangerous to stay there. The home next door owned by their nephew Randy Weston was hit so hard by the wind and trees that it had to be torn down. It has since been rebuilt, and last week they got word they can move in.
"He's pretty happy about that," Mr. Weston said.
Part of the tornado passed over the Westons' house causing roof damage and felling, or damaging, many large trees in their yard. When the storm hit, Mrs. Weston remembers it sounding like a jet, but much louder. It roared down over Hollow Road, giving residents little time to seek shelter.
"We just barely made it into the cellar," Mrs. Weston said. "We were hearing all the crashing. We thought our house would be gone. It was unbelievable."
Up the road, Ms. Burns barely made it into the barn and hid in one of the stalls. When she emerged from the rubble, it was hard to imagine she had survived. She did, and so did the horses and other animals. The storm passed in less than a minute, and the Westons made their way from the cellar and headed up the road. In the middle of the road near a pile of rubble that was once her home, they found neighbor Cindy Travi. When they surveyed the damage to their property, it was shocking. Their barn and carriage house and shed were destroyed. Their Christmas store at their tree farm sustained roof damage.
That was only the beginning. They had two 40-plus-foot-long horse trailers that disappeared when the storm hit. Pieces of one were found days later. The other has never been found. One of their hay wagons was lifted up and dropped on top of a tree. They had to cut down the tree to get to the wagon.
The storm scattered debris over the fields, leaving them unsafe for horses because of nails and shredded pieces of metal that rained down as it passed by. Mr. Weston had been collecting wagon loads of metal he was hoping to sell for scrap. A few weeks ago someone took care of that for him, stealing the pile of metal as well as a large metal restaurant-style kitchen table. Mr. Weston said other items stolen included tools and a fence post.
"No matter how close you keep it, they will try to steal it," he said. "It's unbelievable that people would come in and steal from people who have been through this."
Mr. Weston has had his ups and downs in dealing with the town of Brimfield, but he said the Highway Department has done him a big favor.
"I'm having more and more trouble with my eyesight and they restored my sightlines," he said.
Mr. Weston is legally blind and the storm destroyed fences and landmarks he used to find his way around his property. Not someone to sit still, he found it difficult to get to his barn and carriage areas after the storm to begin cleaning up the mess. The Highway Department painted white lines along the edge of the road, which has allowed him to more easily find his way around.
Changes on Hollow Road have been many and more are happening every day. Mr. Weston said he called state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer's office in April to express long-standing concerns about downed trees in the Brimfield State Forest. He told the senator the downed trees had not been removed since the tornado and were creating dangerous conditions at a time when brush fires were breaking out all over Central Massachusetts. He was put in contact with Gov. Deval Patrick's Springfield office. After a large brush fire broke out on Paige Hill Road, he said he was called by Mr. Patrick's office and told that an executive order was issued to clean up the forest.
Since then many trees have been removed, especially along the roadsides. Mr. Weston has also had someone come in and remove many of his downed or damaged trees, many of which were so badly twisted they are useless for anything except to be chipped and burned at a power plant.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Weston are confident things will continue to improve and their business will get back in operation. They have a barn-raising planned for July 28 and 29. Mrs. Weston acknowledges it will never look the same on Hollow Road, but her husband takes a hopeful approach.
"It's never going to look the same, but it is going to look beautiful again, but in a different way," he said.
Contact George Barnes by email at email@example.com.
CUTLINE: Ron and Linda Weston of 73 Hollow Road, owners of Hollow Brook Farms, look over construction progress at their Carriage House, located at 37 Hollow Road.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||May 27, 2012|
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