Ashleigh Grampetro was sitting with neighbors outside her apartment building on Main Street in Webster when a tornado touched down Saturday morning. Grampetro, 21, who is 7 months pregnant, grabbed her 11-month-old son, bent over to protect her belly, and ran. Metal trash can lids sliced through the humid air and glass shattered on top of her as she crouched with neighbors in the first floor of the building.
“One day you’re just sitting out there and everything is fine, and then the next day you have lost everything you own and you have absolutely nothing,” she said.
Grampetro is one of an estimated 43 people displaced when a tornado touched down Saturday morning in Dudley and continued on into Webster, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The worst damage was on Main Street in Webster, which was hit harder than Dudley.
Two connected buildings in Webster were demolished Sunday after being deemed structurally unsound, displacing two families and two businesses. A third — Grampetro’s — will be evaluated by engineers Monday to see if it needs to be taken down as well.
After the storm, Grampetro returned to her apartment to collect a few items and was shocked by the destruction. Glass was everywhere from windows that exploded in the storm. Burst pipes had flooded the apartment and the ceiling hung down in chunks. The roof had blown off, exposing the sky.
“We lost our money, our documents,” Grampetro said. “Everything had gotten completely drenched or blown around or lost. What are we going to do? Where do we live now? What do we have now? What do we do now?”
Officials are still trying to assess damage, said Webster Town Administrator Doug Willardson.
“We’re putting out feelers to the community to get information back,” he said. “We are going to try to gather information on both businesses and homes and try to get an estimate and also get an estimate of how much is not covered by insurance.”
Only one minor injury was reported: A woman who was in a car when a tree branch fell was hurt, officials said. Willardson said he did not know her name, but saw her afterward and she had no signs of injury.
The American Red Cross gave 32 of the displaced residents hotel vouchers for a few days. Officials will be available at an event in town organized by MEMA from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to help displaced residents plan their next steps. Willardson said he hopes to help the residents find long-term housing solutions.
Immediately after the tornado hit, residents gathered in Webster’s Senior Center, which quickly became the headquarters for disaster relief. They met with members from the American Red Cross, local officials, and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who visited Webster on Saturday.
“The emergency response crews in town did an absolutely incredible job,” said state Representative Joseph D. McKenna, a Republican, in a phone interview Sunday.
He was on scene Saturday and Sunday, he said, and was amazed by the speed and efficiency of the cleanup.
“I think we were very, very, very fortunate,” said Webster Selectman Robert J. Miller. “I’ve never seen a response like this and I’ve lived here for 67 years. It was remarkable, absolutely remarkable.”
He said the town was back to “kind of normal.”
“You think a little tornado is going to stop us?” he said.
The tornado that swept through the towns Saturday was stronger than ones that typically touch down in Massachusetts, said Bill Simpson, a spokesman with the National Weather Service.
Most summers, Southern New England experiences a few small tornadoes that are rated only a “0” on the Enhanced Fujita scale, the metric meteorologists use to evaluate a tornado’s severity. Saturday’s storms were ranked EF1, meaning that they had winds of up to 110 miles per hour.
“The EF0s, they’re are usually two to four a year,” Simpson said. “The 1’s usually happen every two to four years.”
One factor that may have saved lives was a cellphone alert that came half an hour before the tornado touched down, giving people time to get to safety.
On Sunday, residents were cleaning up and trying to help those who had been affected by the storm. Several churches offered prayers and gave their support to recovery efforts.
Tamara Beland, a resident who runs a radio show in Webster that highlights local businesses, started a fund-raiser on Facebook.
“When you’re a small business, it’s very hard to get back up on your feet immediately,” she said. “Insurance doesn’t always cover all your needs.”
As of Sunday evening, 80 people had donated $5,825 .
“We are a small town and it’s pretty amazing how much we come together when it really counts,” she said.
By Sunday evening, most of the debris had been cleared and Main Street in Webster had reopened for business. The two demolished buildings were blocked off and tree limbs were stacked neatly against the sides of the roads as life, for most residents, returned to normal.
Grampetro is uncertain about her future but is hopeful that a GoFundMe effort to aid people in her building will help.
She has a priority.
“The baby’s still kicking; I can feel him in there,” she said. “I’m not even concerned about me. I’m concerned about how can I get my family into a home.”