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Still reeling from tornado, Springfield, Mass., now in Irene's cross hairs

Springfield, Mass., has been hit by a tornado, a microburst, and tremors from the Virginia earthquake since June. Now, hurricane Irene could be tracking toward the city.

By Staff writer / August 25, 2011

People look at storm damage on June 2, a day after a tornado in Springfield, Mass. Storm trackers suggest that hurricane Irene could hit Springfield late this weekend.

Jessica Hill/AP

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Tornado. Microburst. Earthquake tremors. And now a hurricane, to top it all off?

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Residents of Springfield, Mass. – having shown their resilience during a series of earth-shaking events this summer – are watching hurricane Irene’s path closely, wondering if they’ll catch a break this weekend.

Heavy rains and winds could further damage homes still patched with blue tarps in the wake of the June 1 tornado that traveled through the entire seven-mile length of the city. On July 26, another tornado warning was issued for Springfield, but instead, it was hit with a microburst – another type of wind event that brought down trees in a smaller area. Then people felt the tremors from the Virginia earthquake earlier this week.

Now, with early hurricane forecasts raising the possibility that Irene could barrel right through the city, officials are prepping in case there’s a need for emergency shelter. Counselors will be on hand if the new storm exacerbates the anguish that many survivors still feel.

“To be honest with you, I’ve already thought of going west in the car – that’s how scared I am,” says Sheila Genereux, whose business, Aquatique Pools in nearby West Springfield, was damaged by the tornado.

She’s been watching the forecast closely, and as of Thursday morning her impulse to flee had lessened. Worried about flooding, Ms. Genereux plans to move some materials up to higher shelves. “I’m sure we’ll just deal with it,” she says.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is busy tracking the storm and making statewide plans Thursday. But tornado-damaged areas “are very high on our radar,” says spokesman Peter Judge.

“We just had a National Weather Service conference call [Thursday morning] and had the latest map up, and the line ... the center of that cone of uncertainty ... literally was going right through Springfield and we said, ‘Oh no!,’ ” Mr. Judge says. “But with these storms, two days can make a lot of difference” in terms of the path and the strength.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is in hourly contact with emergency officials. By Friday afternoon, he will be able to give residents more information on the storm’s predicted impact and the services available, including shelter and food aid if needed, says Tom Walsh, the mayor’s communications director.

Understandably, “some people feel a little nervous about what may be coming, but ... all precautions are being taken,” Mr. Walsh says.

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