The rain was already falling at a steady pace around 9:15 a.m. on Broadway Revere, but there was a point when things got eerily dark in the sky.
The rain picked up, and the wind began to blow.
Big deal, right? There have been several storms of late, and Revere has endured more than a few hurricanes and wind events.
A minute went by, and then Broadway got a dose of wind it has likely never seen and likely won’t for a long time – hopefully.
The sound of a freight train resounded outside the windows of Broadway businesses and homes in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods – a telltale sign of a tornado.
Heavy things that aren’t supposed to fly around like plastic bags were swirling; the opposite side of Broadway was invisible from one side to the other.
The lights went out.
The winds howled.
Dumpsters were moved several yards.
The skating rink roof was ripped off and deposited on Taft Street.
City Hall windows on the south side were blown out like bombs had burst – even computer screens and interior windows burst under the pressure of winds that dismantled the old Hall’s roof and tore down granite blocks from the chimneys.
Roofs were tossed like Frisbees.
Huge trees – such as those in the American Legion Lawn or on Beach Street or on the hard-hit Taft Street – had been ripped out of the ground, roots and all, after decades of safety in their appointed spots.
The Rite Aid sign was a block away, sitting in the front yard of an elderly man’s home.
Electrical wires were everywhere, sparking in many cases.
Three auto body shops on Broadway, one at the lower end and two on Brown Circle, had roofs ripped off.
Before most people knew what had happened, what Fire Chief Gene Doherty, Mayor Dan Rizzo and the National Weather Service eventually confirmed was that an F2 level tornado had ripped its way up Broadway. Starting on the Chelsea Creek, it apparently moved up to Mill Creek, put itself in high gear and drove a path of destruction up Broadway – weakening to an F1 tornado somewhere around Proctor Avenue. Destruction for three blocks surrounding Broadway was readily seen.
Many people, who had no warning of the approaching storm, were outside or driving.
They were blown in the winds, emerging from the whirlwind terrified and shaking – hardly able to relay to the Journal what had just happened to them.
Just minutes after the storm passed, people who had been outside got up from where they were or emerged from their cars in a zombie-like daze.
“I was sitting in my car waiting for my daughter and my wife to come out so I could take them somewhere,” said Victor Villena, who was just outside the door to the 7 Park Ave. apartments when the roof of Peter Woo’s Restaurant was deposited on his car, minutes after the tornado passed. “It got dark and it started blowing and then it started blowing really hard. I said, ‘What in the world is this?’ Then it got harder. It was out of control. I was very, very scared. Then I heard a boom and something smashed my car. The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t see what it was. Stuff was blowing all over the place – hitting my car and hitting everything and totally out of control. I guess the roof from the building came down and pieces of that kept hitting the car and breaking stuff. I didn’t know what it was, but I was trying to figure out if I should stay in the car or run into the building. The wind was so strong; if there had been a little child outside, they would have been picked up and blown away. I stepped out of my car and ran for my life. It was terrifying. I’m still terrified. I can’t stop shaking.”
As he spoke, he removed shingles from his backseat; pieces of rubber roofing were plastered into the glass of his windshield like stopped bullets. Even a piece of flashing had lodged between the windshield and the car frame.
“What is this? How in the world did that get into here?” he asked incredulously.
Within minutes of the tornado passing Park Avenue, Malden Police Officer Jack Delaney ran out of his car in ankle deep water that had been deposited on the street.
Delaney said he was off duty and coming to a doctor’s appointment in Revere when the wind picked up and the tornado passed. He said he took refuge in his car, and a tree hit it. When he deemed it safe, he got out and started directing stunned drivers who were stranded or shell-shocked on Broadway.
“If that wasn’t a tornado, I don’t know what a tornado is,” he said while directing cars about an hour later. “I was just coming down to a doctor’s appointment in Revere and the wind picked up and a tree smashed my windshield. Then I got out and began to try to clear the street.”
Alongside him as he directed traffic minutes after the tornado was a large commercial dumpster that had been moved about 40 yards from the Citizens Bank building.
At Peter Woo’s building on the corner, the roof was ripped off the kitchen area and off of the backside convenience store.
A woman who had been working was distraught – crying hysterically. One woman who had been trying to send money overseas said it was chaos. The roof was just ripped off before they even knew what happened. The door was smashed, and the awning lifted away and the dumpster overturned.
“I was so scared said the woman,” who was unidentified. “We just got down and hid next to the counter. I’ve never seen things like this.”
Broadway from Vinal Street to Mountain Avenue was impassable.
Firefighters were trying to respond, but couldn’t immediately because they were blocked in the station, and then their paths were blocked by tress, bricks, glass and debris.
“Central Fire Station crews couldn’t get out at first during the initial calls,” said Fire Chief Gene Doherty afterward. “Our sign was blocking the door and the flagpole was snapped in half. People on the street had been knocked over and blown down. It was unbelievable the effect it had…It was a war zone. We got calls right off that people were trapped. Fire crews couldn’t get through the streets. We were re-routing engines constantly. We didn’t know what roads were open and what were blocked. Firefighters were using saws we normally use to cut through a roof in order to clear a path quickly through the trees so they could get to the calls. You see these things in the South and Midwest and they cut through houses and pick up trailer parks, and I think we’re fortunate there wasn’t more damage from this.”
Down the street, the Rite Aid sign was completely gone.
Some of it lay in the parking lot, while the top had been deposited in the front yard of Frank Bellofatto, who lives about 300 yards away on Mountain Avenue.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said, dazed and looking at a piece of roofing material dangling perilously from three large electrical transformers overhead. “I guess this is the pharmacy sign. Everyone’s okay here, thank goodness. What was this?”
Members of Immaculate Conception Church were celebrating Mass when the tornado plowed through and took two giant trees down on top of several cars and rendered Beach Street impassable for more than two hours.
“I live down on Beach Street, but I was in church when it happened,” said Son Doan, who was surveying his car that was buried under the trunk of a five-story cedar tree. “We heard it inside, but church was still going on so I didn’t think much about it. When I came outside and saw my car, I couldn’t believe it. I never expected that this is what was happening outside.”
Two men who had been at the stoplight of Park Avenue and Broadway in their concrete company’s work truck – Jet Concrete of New Hampshire – said they had been working at the Hill School. In the process of leaving the job, an air conditioner and hundreds of bricks toppled onto the vehicle as the tornado passed right over them.
“It was unreal,” said one of the workers, who was unidentified, just minutes after the storm. “Our boss doesn’t even believe us. He thought we were lying. We saw the wind and we were terrified. We decided to put on our hardhats and just try to get as far under the dash as possible. The roof started hitting us and it was pretty crazy. Now, we’re just trying to get all this metal and brick out from under our truck so we can go.”
As he spoke to the Journal, his co-worker was trying to dislodge a plastic trash barrel from under their axle – a trash barrel that seemingly had been brought from several blocks away.
Down at the old Mill Creek Grist Mill – which is now apartments – the storm started its wrath.
Bobby McKenna, a resident of the Mill, said he began to hear strong winds and noticed a huge amount of swirling wind come from the commuter rail bridge.
“I really felt it came from the Creek and made its way up,” he said, long before the actual path of the tornado was officially announced. “I shut my windows and it really was blowing hard. Then I heard my neighbor lying out in the hall crying and bleeding from the mouth. She had been trying to hold her air conditioner in the window and it blew out and hit her in the mouth. It was like something out of a movie. It was really like someone turned the rain and wind button up from 1 to 10 in an instant. Then I heard everyone yelling and scared. It was surreal.”
On Broadway, one trucker who was making a delivery to the Hill School said he knew what he was in for, as he had been through a tornado before. He stopped his rig on Park Avenue and got down under the bed in his cab.
“All the sudden there was wind everywhere,” said Douglas Knisely – a trucker from Pennsylvania. “I was just making a delivery to the school. Stuff was flying around from the school and I jumped in the back and tried to hide from it. I was in one of these in Harrisburg (Pa.) once and I call them ‘The Finger of God.’ That’s because they destroy one place and leave another place right beside it untouched. If you look around you, things are hit here and untouched in other places. You have to also see that this brings out the best in people also.”
That, too, was evident everywhere one went.
Dazed and confused people wandered Broadway trying to figure out what had happened to them and their city.
Many started to clean up or to check on people – hundreds of roaming people asking if everyone was safe. Others began to pick up the soiled and soaked American flags that sat in puddles in the street – ripped down from the light poles.
“It was amazing,” said Broadway Attorney Dave Occena, as he picked up a soiled American flag from the ground and respectfully hung it from a parking meter. “It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard. The building was shaking and things were falling. It felt like a direct hit. It was, honestly, an epic experience.”
Such was also true at City Hall, where workers were shell-shocked following the hit.
“It just happened so fast, so fast,” said City Solicitor Paul Capizzi, who was on the second floor of City Hall. “I tried to get downstairs but the windows busted out and glass was hitting me and going everywhere.”
Meanwhile, in the City Treasurer and Collector’s offices – both on the south side of City Hall – windows blew out like a bomb had gone off. The office was turned upside down by wind, rain and mud – and even computer screens were busted out.
“Records are strewn all over the place; it’s a disaster,” said Director of Finance George Anzuoni. “Windows busted in right on the girls in my office – both first and second floors – and just destroyed everything. Even inside windows blew out. There are bills and papers and records all over the place.”
And then there were people who were just a few blocks away and had no idea a tornado was ripping through Broadway. Ken and Christine Bruker of Winthrop Avenue live right in the path of the storm, but were at Bell Circle eating breakfast.
“There was nothing there, just rain,” said Christine. “We come back and there are huge trees that have been here for all the 37 years we’ve lived here ripped right out of the ground. I have pictures of a hurricane I went through in the 1950s – one of me sitting on a tree on Hall Street, but that’s nothing – even the Blizzard of `78; that was just snow. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Said Ken, “You hear we have a tornado warning and they just don’t mean that much to us because – until now – we’ve never had anything like this.”
Mayor Dan Rizzo – at a press conference towards the end of the day – said he could have never imagined having to deal with an F2 tornado coming through his city.
“This obviously wasn’t what we thought we would contend with when we woke up this morning – an F2 or F1 tornado hitting our City,” he said. “Our Central Business District and the neighborhoods to the east and west were hit really, really hard. When you see trees three feet in diameter just ripped up by the roots is something we’re not used to seeing. As long as I can remember, I’ve not seen anything like this…To see the damage on this corridor is amazing. It’s a blessing – a miracle – no one was hurt.”