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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.

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Particularly in the first few months after a severe weather event, some people – and even pets – experience increased anxiety, says Larry Berkowitz, director of the Riverside Trauma Center in Needham, Mass. “The sky darkens, the wind starts to blow, they get a little worried,” he adds.

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On the flip side, Mr. Berkowitz says, “some people feel a little more of what we would consider mastery – they’ll have been through this [with the tornadoes] ... so [they] might actually be a good resource to others who haven’t been through it before.”

When the tornado hit

Genereux's experience with tornadoes in the Berkshires and California may very well have saved lives on June 1.

Normally she has 16-foot-high doors open for truck deliveries, but that day happened to be near the doors and see the outside edge of the tornado. “I saw the swirling and said to my customer, ‘You better get in,’ and she thought I was being kooky. That’s when I saw the black cloud ... and realized what it was,” Genereux says. “We were just able to get that door down. I bolted both sides, and I ran to shut the front and I already saw rafters coming off the buildings across the street. That’s how quickly it hit.”

She’s gotten insurance payments to fix her broken windows and replace lost vehicles. But she’s still waiting for compensation for loss of business when utilities and phone lines went down at the height of the swimming-pool season.

Rebuilding is under way in damaged neighborhoods, including downtown Springfield, which lost some historic buildings and a community youth center, Mr. Walsh says. Students at one school will be returning to mobile units. Downed trees are still being cleared. Total recovery for the city is expected to take at least three years.

Extreme home makeover on tap

The television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has announced plans to come to Springfield in September. But as usual, it will be a surprise to the family whose home will be rebuilt.

Twenty-five homes will be repaired in five days thanks to volunteers being organized by the nonprofit Rebuilding Together Springfield. The group has been helping the elderly, veterans, and families who haven’t been able to cover all their reconstruction costs through insurance and FEMA.

Many elderly people on a tight budget think they can get by without insurance, which isn’t required after the mortgage is paid off. “You never think a tornado is going to happen ... especially in this area,” says Colleen Loveless, executive director of Rebuilding Together Springfield.

But now that it has, people in the area are on high alert as Irene approaches.

Advice for emergency preparedness is available on a number of websites, including the National Weather Service.

“We hope people will do all they can to be prepared,” Berkowitz says. “Social support is really what helps people in tough times – family and neighbors looking out for each other.”

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