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National Guard in tornado-hit Mass. areas

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., June 2 (UPI) -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered National Guard troops to help with search efforts in Springfield, hard hit by deadly tornadoes.

Declaring a state of emergency, Patrick said at least 19 communities in western and central Massachusetts reported damage from Wednesday's tornadoes and he asked community officials to close schools and keep non-emergency personnel home Thursday so crews could clear debris, The Boston Globe reported.

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Officials said two deaths were reported in West Springfield, one in Springfield, and one in Brimfield.

"We are in an emergency situation," the governor said, noting officials reported instances of looting in Springfield and describing damage as extensive.

"We are hoping and praying and working as hard as possible to keep the fatalities limited to those [confirmed] four," he said.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency officials said by 8 p.m. Wednesday 20 communities reported tornado touchdowns. They said National Guard troops would help clearing trees and conducting wellness checks.

"We're accustomed to seeing one to three tornado warnings or watches a year," Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman Scott MacLeod said. "This is not a regular natural hazard we're faced with in Massachusetts. This is absolutely very serious."

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Local government officials reported tornadoes in Springfield and neighboring communities blew out windows, toppled trees, flipped vehicles and ripped roofs off buildings.

Early Thursday, it was unclear how much damage had been done in Springfield, although officials said they received reports of destruction from every corner of the city, CNN reported.

"I can tell you the damage is extensive. It is very difficult getting around the city," Fire Commissioner Gary Cassanelli said. "The fire crews are having a tough time."

"We are in triage right now," Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said late Wednesday. "We are in life-saving mode."

Power companies throughout Massachusetts reported more than 50,000 customers were without power by 9 p.m. and many live wires were down. Boston's Logan International Airport began stopping planes from landing shortly before 7 p.m.

"The description of the damage is heartbreaking, but I will do everything I can to make the recovery process start immediately," said Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., who represents the Springfield area.

In Monson, the Rev. Robert Marrone of the First Church of Monson said he could see the storm's destruction, the Springfield Republican reported.

"I can see the plywood of roofs, and see houses where most of the house is gone," said Marrone, adding that the winds tore off the church's steeple and clock. "The road that runs up in front of my house ... there're so many trees down, it's completely impassable."

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