Monson continues recovery after June 2011 tornado

(Western Mass News photo)

Melissa Denoncourt, a resident of Monson, was celebrating her 17th birthday.

"We were getting ready for my birthday cake... the windows blew in, it was like chaos and you couldn't hear anything," said Denoncourt.

The strong tornado tore a path through Monson, leaving a scar on western Massachusetts that visible from space.

"So you can see, coming over the hill, came in through downtown, and continued on east out towards Brimfield," said Dan LaRoche, Monson's Town Planner.

LaRoche joined Monson in 2012 to lead the disaster recovery effort.

"Our physical rebuilding effort is about 95 percent complete. There are a few personal, private properties that haven't been rebuilt. Certainly, the majority have been rebuilt. Monson looks as good as ever," said LaRoche.

Monson landmarks, like the First Church, have been rebuilt after their church steeple was toppled during the tornado. That steeple houses bells that chime every hour.

Despite the building being rebuilt, there are still memories in the landscape.

"The missing trees was quite a scar on the landscape fabric and putting the trees back is really part of the rebuilding effort," LaRoche said.

Monson has a replanting committee dedicated to beautifying the town. So far, they've planted hundreds and hundreds of trees, both on private and public land.

The replanting committee has used funds from both the state government and private donations.

LaRoche commented, "When you're talking about rebuilding, it's really talking about the people. People coming together and having the resolve to make things happen."

Monson, as a town, has recovered, but that isn't always the case for some of its residents.

"Physically, that day, it left me with scars all over. The physical ones aren't the ones I'm worried about", said Denoncourt.

Denoncourt's mother was left in a full arm cast after the tornado. Now, her mother bears the marks on her arm to this day.

"The physical scars are really starting to heal. I think the emotional scars are still taking time to heal… and it takes time, and time does heal. We are seeing that in every day that goes passed things seem to be getting stronger and healing," said LaRoche.

As June 1 comes each year and Denoncourts gathers to celebrate her birthday, the celebration is bittersweet.

"You're still waiting to wake up and for it to be back to normal." said Denoncourt.

Copyright 2016 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

First Warning Meteorologist

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