BOSTON (Reuters) - Residents of tornado-ravaged towns in western and central Massachusetts faced the arduous tasks of cleaning up and assessing the damage on Friday from the twisters that ripped through the region this week.
Officials have confirmed three deaths from Wednesday's storms and said a fourth death, an elderly man who died of apparent cardiac arrest, may not have been tornado-related.
The late-afternoon tornadoes, moving west to east, tore through some 19 communities, including Springfield, about 90 miles west of Boston, bringing high winds, rain, large hail stones, thunder and lightning.
In Brimfield, Massachusetts, where officials confirmed one death, the path of the twisters destroyed 25 years of hard work and memories in less than a minute, one business owner said.
"It's all gone. Everything's gone. There's nothing left," said Dave Bell, owner of a towing and car repair and restoration business decimated in the storm.
Bell said paperwork from his shop was found more than 50 miles away in Norwood, Massachusetts.
Two of his employees survived the storm underneath a stairwell in one of the buildings, and cars, including his own restored classic automobile, were flipped and scattered around the property, he said.
Bell said he was unsure if he will try to rebuild his business.
About 200 people were injured during the severe weather system, and roughly 14,000 customers in the area remained without power on Friday, emergency management officials said.
The National Weather Service said preliminary indications show that two or three tornadoes touched down in the region on Wednesday.
One tornado identified by survey teams that moved eastward from Westfield, Massachusetts will carry a preliminary classification in the hardest-hit areas as EF-3 or higher on the damage scale, the Weather Service said.
The EF-3 rating means average wind gusts of 136 to 165 miles per hour. The scale extends through EF-5, with wind gusts of more than 200 mph.
Survey teams were still investigating the scope and force of the storms, it said.
The U.S. has been battered by tornadoes this year. A series of deadly twisters hit the Southeast U.S. in April, and a powerful tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri in May. At least four of the tornadoes have been classified as EF-5. More than 500 people have died nationwide so far this year.
Reporting Lauren Keiper, additional reporting by Zach Howard in Conway, Massachusetts; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune