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Massachusetts tornado: What are deadly tornadoes doing way up in New England?

At least two tornadoes tore through communities in western and central Massachusetts Wednesday, killing four and injuring 200. They make 2011 the deadliest year for US tornadoes since 1950.

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Shawn Menard (r.) reaches to help homeowner Tony Esposito from atop the rubble of his home in Monson, Mass., on Thursday, June 2, one day after it was destroyed by a tornado. Esposito said no one was injured at his home. Residents of 19 communities in central and western Massachusetts woke to widespread damage Thursday, a day after at least two tornadoes shocked emergency officials with their suddenness and violence.

Elise Amendola/AP

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Hundreds of residents in western and central Massachusetts are combing through what's left of their homes and businesses after a convoy of severe thunderstorms traveled along the Connecticut-Massachusetts border late Wednesday afternoon and early evening, spawning at least two tornadoes and dropping golf-ball size hail in several locations.

So far, four deaths have been attributed to the twisters, which flattened wood-framed triple-decker houses and snapped tree trunks in at least 18 communities. At least 200 people were injured, according to emergency managers.

If the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., can verify that figure, 2011 will tie 1950 as the deadliest year on record for tornadoes in the US, according to Greg Carbin, warning-coordination meteorologist at the SPC.

Earlier Wednesday, the center noted that conditions in Northeast would favor formation of severe thunderstorms capable of spawning tornadoes. By 2 p.m. EDT the National Weather Service had posted a tornado watch covering virtually the entire Bay State. The first reports of a twister began appearing around 4:30 p.m.

Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) noted that Springfield, Mass., residents had roughly 10 minutes' warning before the first tornado struck.

"When you consider how quickly the tornadoes developed and then touched down, the fact that there wasn't even greater damage and loss of life is a remarkable thing," he said.

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