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Boston Weather: 27.0°F | A Few Clouds
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BOSTON — At least four people were killed when tornadoes touched down Wednesday in Springfield, Mass., and a number of nearby towns. The twisters flipped vehicles, collapsed buildings and stunned residents who are not used to such violent storms.

Governor Deval Patrick activated the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. He said that at least two tornadoes had hit and that serious damage had been reported in 19 communities, many of them small towns along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

One man was killed when his car overturned in West Springfield, Patrick said. Two other deaths were reported in Westfield and one in Brimfield, he said, though he had no details.

With storms continuing into the night, Patrick found himself in the unusual position of instructing New Englanders more accustomed to blizzards to take shelter in basements and bathrooms if necessary.

The scope of the damage was still unclear, but photos and videos showed buildings with roofs and sides sheared off. The police were going door to door in some neighborhoods to make sure residents were unharmed.

“There’s just total destruction,” said Michael Day, a plumbing inspector from Agawam who was driving through West Springfield shortly after the first tornado struck around 4:30 p.m. “All I can hear is ambulances. There’s a lot of police sirens around and fire trucks.”

Tornado warnings had been issued for much of the state earlier Wednesday. One of the confirmed tornadoes traveled east from Westfield to Douglas, Patrick said, and the other traveled east from North Springfield to Sturbridge.

Patrick said 1,000 members of the Massachusetts National Guard were being dispatched to help with debris removal and, if necessary, search-and-rescue efforts.

He said that state Senator Stephen Brewer had told him that Monson, a town of about 9,000 east of Springfield, appeared to have suffered some of the worst damage.

“He said, ‘You have to see Monson to believe it,”’ Patrick said. “I think he made a reference to The Wizard of Oz.

While tornadoes are relatively rare in New England, one that hit Worcester in 1953, known as the Worcester Twister, killed 94 people and injured more than 1,000.

At least 48,000 customers lost power in the storms, Patrick said, and school was to be canceled Thursday in the affected communities to allow for debris to be cleared.