Watch CBS News

'Like A Freight Train': Owner Of Brimfield Campground Recalls Deadly 2011 Tornado

BRIMFIELD (CBS) - June 1, 2011 started out like any normal workday for Lester Twarowski. Work had to be done preparing the Village Green Family Campground in Brimfield for the summer crowd. It was hot and humid and there was a chance of storms in the forecast. At 1 PM, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for the area. At 4:17 PM, a tornado was reported in Westfield. The tornado traveled nearly 40 miles and was on the ground for 70 minutes.

Twarowski can still recall the moments and sounds of that day. "Like a train coming, like a freight train, a big freight train coming or a jet. It was just a roar," Twarowski explains.

The sound of an EF3 Tornado is not something you can forget, even 10 years later.

Brimfield tornado
Camper flipped over by tornado at Village Green Family Campground in Brimfield in June, 2011 (WBZ-TV)

"You'll never forget that. Like I said, you hear the wind whistling, for the first couple of years I slept with one eye open," he said.

Twarowski explained how the shift in wind caused him to be concerned.

"The wind was blowing this way all day, then all of a sudden, the air above stopped moving except for 3 feet high, it was like undertow in the ocean…It was pulling you, and if you didn't hold yourself, it was strong enough to move your feet... And then I knew," Twarowski said.

Lester Twarowski
Lester Twarowski (WBZ-TV)

Twarowski and several others ran for cover as the twister grew to a half mile wide as it approached Brimfield. When the EF3 tornado came over the hill, dozens of people rushed into the cellar, which is the strongest building on the campsite.

"As I pushed the last person down the stairs into the cellar of the store, if you stuck your hand outside of the side of the house, you would lose your hand with the stuff that is flying by," Twarowski said.

Everybody huddled together, either side of a threshold, to ride out 20 seconds of ferocious wind.

"Maybe about 25 people in the cellar, when it came over our heads. Everybody was screaming as loud as they could… crying and all of that… and you couldn't hear anybody, it was that loud and we were inside."

Village Green Family Campground was a direct hit.

"(It) Shook everything, rattled everything apart. And then it went as fast as it came. I stuck my head in the door and I told my wife and the people in there that everything is gone," Twarowski said.

Seventy acres of a 150-foot forest was completely wiped out.

"When the tornado came through here… you could see the whole top of the hill, everything, the whole valley, cause all the trees were gone, they were laying down," Twarowski explained.

Between the trees and twisted metal, personal belongings were scattered over the property.

Brimfield tornado
The Village Green Family Campground in Brimfield was hit by a tornado in June, 2011 (WBZ-TV)

"If a tree didn't land on the camper… the camper was disintegrated by the winds," said Twarowski.

More than 120 campers were destroyed that day. One of them, was tossed in the air, flipped over and killed a woman inside.

"It's hard talking about it and not crying… you still feel it. But you'll never forget it," Twarowski said.

It's now a decade old memory, but Twarowski will always remember how people worked together and how the community stepped up.

"Everybody came, in droves… I didn't know I knew that many people. But you certainly find out how many friends you have, when you have a tragedy," Twarowski said. "I like to support the community, we support the school and all the things the community does and it paid back."

Nearly immediately, chainsaws and tractors became a constant sound that summer from volunteers

"They were here for months… I mean after work, Saturday and Sundays. Never complained," Twarowski stated.

While it took several years to recover, Twarowski knew the job could and would get done.

"It's been one step at a time. Sometimes we go forward once, and go back two, but I had no idea it was going to turn out this nice… but I knew we were going to rebuild it," Twarowski says proudly. "Time and effort will always fix something."

After ten years, the campground looks a bit different now. There are new buildings, paths and campers. New trees continue to grow and the ones that remain are a symbol of hope and resilience, a reminder of how Village Green Family Campground weathered the storm.

"People like seeing them, you know the survivors…cause you know, that's what we were," said Twarowski.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.