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Daylong Deluge Causes Evacuations, Road Closings

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, October 09, 2005
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A Curran Highway miniature golf course owned by city businessman David Bond was damaged by floodwaters.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — An Oct. 8 driving rainstorm that lasted nearly 24 hours caused evacuations in Williamstown and North Adams, as well as multiple road washouts, basement and street flooding, and may be partially to blame for a three-car collision that totaled a North Adams police cruiser. Adams police reported one town incident occurred during the hours-long downpour. Police said that a water main broke on Friend Street.

Spruces Evacuation

Flooding caused a complete evacuation of the Spruces Mobile Home Park. There are over 200 residents living at the property; many are disabled. Williamstown police said that at about 5:50 p.m. Saturday, rising water reports involving the primarily senior citizen-occupied park were received by police. A mass evacuation was initiated at about 6:54 p.m., said town police Sgt. David Lemieux.

The evacuation was not mandatory but residents were strongly encouraged to leave their homes. Lemieux said that he believes all the park residents did evacuate. The Williamstown Elementary School was set up as an emergency shelter and about 45 cots were erected inside the building.

Many park residents were able to drive from the mobile home park and find shelter with friends and family members; those who could not drive were transported by Dufour Inc.-owned school buses to the school. A number of park residents did stay overnight at the school, Lemieux said.

The rains subsided during the overnight hours, and the park was re-opened section by section beginning at about 8 a.m. on Oct. 9, Lemieux said. People were able to return to their homes when their specific area of the park was deemed safe and the entire park was opened by about 11:30 a.m., police said.

Lemieux said that several individuals were taken to the North Adams Regional Hospital because of medical conditions. There were no injuries reported as a direct result of the flood. Water rose to estimated 3- to 4-foot levels in some portions of the park, police said. Officers reported wading through water that was waist-deep or slightly higher as they made their way through the park, first evacuating residents and then checking each home to be certain no one was trapped or left behind. The evacuation was completed at about 11:30 p.m.

The Williamstown Fire Department, town highway and water department employees, and members of the Village Ambulance Service were part of the evacuation process, Lemieux said. "Cabulance" vehicles, which are wheelchair accessible, assisted with the evacuation, and the Williams Inn donated blankets. The American Red Cross was also on the scene. All available town police officers were called to duty as well.

Donald Anderson and his wife reside at the Spruces and left their home shortly after 9 p.m., Anderson said. He and his wife were able to stay with friends, but worried constantly about the situation, their home, and their two cats that had to be left behind.

"We're fine," Anderson said during an Oct. 9 interview. "Tired, but fine. We were worried all night long. When we left, the water was about four to five inches deep on my front steps."

Anderson said his home was not damaged during the flood and the family pets were found safe upon the couple's return.

The water rose to higher levels in other sections of the park, and many of the homes located in those sections sustained damage to the skirting, which surrounds the bottom portion of most mobile homes. Lawns were damaged and lawn ornaments and lawn furniture were damaged and strewn about the park.

Anderson said he's heard that some vehicles were fender-deep in water. "[The water] had quite a force to it, from what I'm hearing," Anderson said. Anderson said he's lived in the park, parts of which are situated a flood plain zone, for 15 years. The Saturday night situation was the worst flooding he's witnessed in the park, he said.

Police said the flooding appeared to have been caused by groundwater as opposed to overflowing riverbanks.

"The ground was saturated and couldn't take any more water," Lemieux said. A smaller evacuation occurred along the North Street/Syndicate Road section of town. Police said five homes were evacuated and one of the homes sustained significant damage to its foundation because of flooding.

Also in Williamstown, Water Street [Route 43] was closed to traffic all the way to the Five Corners intersection because of flooding and flooding was reported at the intersection of Potter and Hopper Roads, police said.

Beaver Street Evacuation

In North Adams, a Beaver Street evacuation was launched at about 8:20 p.m. after city police received reports of street flooding and river water rising behind a 269 Beaver St. residence. A wall erected as part of the flood control system developed a leak as well. Concerns that water would rise above the system's protective barrier, which sits above several homes, and pour down onto the lower-lying area, contributed to the evacuation decision. Those conditions did not develop, police said.

As the evacuation unfolded, police went door to door and strongly urged evacuation, said police Sgt. James Burdick. Burdick said he believes that most residents did heed the warning to leave their homes. Veteran's Taxi service assisted with the evacuation and an emergency shelter was set up at the Frank R. Stiles American Legion Post 125 post home on American Legion Drive. City firefighters and members of the North Adams Ambulance Service assisted with the evacuation effort, Burdick said.

American Red Cross volunteers were initially at the emergency shelter but left to assist with the Spruces evacuation. North Adams Ambulance EMTs remained at the shelter overnight, Burdick said. Beaver Street was closed from the Clarksburg/city boundary to the intersection of Beaver and Union streets, Burdick said. The street was reopened at about 8:15 a.m. on Oct. 9 and people were allowed to return to their homes. Police reported no injuries during the evacuation.

Police Cruiser Totaled

Early on Oct. 9, a three-car collision at the intersection of River and Marshall streets left a city police cruiser totaled. Wet roads may have been a factor, police said. Police said that traffic lights at the four-way River/Marshall/Houghton street intersection malfunctioned, and left the north/south roadway without any traffic signal, while flashing yellow lights controlled the east/west portion of the intersection.

At about 1:03 a.m., on-duty city police Officer Toby Randall was traveling west on River Street and was proceeding through the intersection in a 2001 Crown Victoria police cruiser when the cruiser's rear passenger side was struck by a 1999 Kia being driven by Jesse Sykes of Orchard Street in Lanesboro. Sykes was traveling south on Houghton Street when the cruiser was struck, police said. Impact force coupled with rain-slicked roads caused the cruiser to spin around and hit the driver's side of a 1994 Jeep being driven by Vern Shields of North Adams and owned by Trevor Thurston of Adams. The Jeep was traveling east on River Street when it was struck, police said. All three vehicles were towed from the scene. The accident is under investigation and charges are pending, Burdick said. No injuries were reported.

All Emergency Personnel In Action

Major rain-related incidents kept city firefighters and police officers busy throughout the Oct. 8 evening. At about 5:15 p.m., firefighters and police responded to an occupied 51 Bracewell Avenue property owned by Michael Deep for a report of a collapsed wall. Burdick and fire department Lt. Joseph Beverly said stacked concrete blocks collapsed because of saturated ground conditions. The blocks tumbled into a back porch at the property and caused significant damage, Burdick and Beverly said.

The incident was not the end of Deep's problems; police said that they received numerous reports later in the evening from West Shaft Road residents that significant amounts of silt were washing out of a Deep-owned residential development site on West Shaft Road. Bluff Road was closed at about 7 p.m. on Saturday due to washout conditions caused by an overflowing creek. The road remained closed as of Oct. 9 afternoon.

Floodwaters rose to heights of about four feet at the Ashland Street Eight-Ball Auto repair shop during the night, and water rose to hood-level of many vehicles parked outside the repair center. Burdick said in some cases, the water caused vehicle wiring malfunctions. The malfunction caused headlights and tail lights to turn on, even though the lights were covered or nearly covered by water.

Flooding occurred along a portion of Church Street when a Windsor Lake overflow drain was unable to handle the deluge; that portion of the street was open to one lane of traffic as of 1 p.m. on Sunday. An old Civil Defense warning siren at the Wheel Estates mobile home park began sounding its piercing blast at about 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, and police said they received at least three dozen calls about the siren. The siren was ultimately silenced, and police said they believe a water-induced short circuit set the siren wailing. Electrical service to the Nassif's Pharmacy was cut on Saturday evening after store employees reported that water was entering the building through electrical outlets.

At about 6:54 p.m., police, firefighters, and North Adams Ambulance service EMTS were called to 1589 Church St.. According to police, an unidentified male was attempting to investigate a leak and fell through a ceiling. The man was taken to North Adams Regional Hospital. No further information was available about his condition.

At about 6:18 p.m., police received a flurry of reports of flooding on Ashland Street, Brown and River streets, West Shaft Road, West Main Street and Richview Avenue, State Road near the Braytonville Garage, Woodlawn Avenue and Notch Road, Barbour Street, and State Street and Oak Street. Police responded to several disabled vehicle calls during the evening. Burdick said that in some cases, motorists found themselves calling for police assistance after they exited their vehicles, removed police-erected barricades and drove directly into flooded or washed-out roadways.

Other drivers drove around barricades and into damaged areas, he said. Reports of flooded cellars were numerous. The Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Department assisted with city-based cellar flooding calls, Burdick said.

'Everyone Did A Super Job'

Despite the tremendous volume of calls, there were no serious injuries reported, and Burdick commended all those who worked during the emergency.

"We had a small group of guys, police, firefighters, ambulance workers, guys from city yard, and it's kudos to everybody," Burdick said. "I really mean this; everyone just did a super job of going from call to call. I thank the Clarksburg fire department; they helped us out while taking care of their own calls. And the city workers, who were down there in the culverts, going as fast as they could to get things cleared out; they did the utmost, best job in absolutely horrible conditions.

"This is the worst flooding I've seen since I've been on the fire department," said Beverly. "There were water calls everywhere, even high elevations that you'd never think it would happen."

Beverly said that all available firefighters were called to duty during Saturday evening and most of those called in were released from duty by about 1 a.m.. Flooded roads and cellars were also reported in the Vermont towns of Pownal and Stamford.

Open House Goes On As Scheduled

And despite the hectic events of Saturday night, the city's fire department open house began at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 as scheduled. About 75 people had visited the firehouse as of 12:45 p.m. Cathy Felix said she brought her 7-year-old daughter to the event for the education value.

"I really think this is a good thing," she said of the open house. "I like the fact that they are teaching the kids. My daughter has never been in a fire but she's afraid of it, and I wanted to bring her down for the education. Dave Simon is just so good with kids."

 Simon, who was part of the emergency response efforts on Saturday night, said he was delighted with the turnout.

"I love to see all these people," he said. Simon said that he was on Brown Street at about 2 a.m. Oct. 9 and looked down over a bridge into a flood control chute.

"I looked down into that water and there was a whole tree just rolling around in there," he said. "The water was only about six or seven feet from topping the flood chute."

My Wife...I Think I'll Keep Her

Simon said the families of police officers, firefighters, and ambulance personnel deserve credit for handling home matters while their spouses are out assisting others.

"I do think it's something people should know," he said. "We can't go home when there's a problem at our own houses. My wife and daughter spent the night pumping out our basement. My wife [Sheri Simon] handles a lot of things while I'm doing my job. She is someone I can count on, and there are not enough words for how much that means to me."


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