North Adams Totes Up Damage Left By Irene
Mayor Richard Alcombright estimated the damages from Irene in the 'millions.' Left, Bluff Road is covered with debris; Bluff and Crest Street above it are closed.
While spared the expected 70 mph winds predicted to sweep the region, Irene dropped 5 inches or more of rain on the city, raising the Hoosic River more than 4 feet above flood level and washing out roads and fields.
"Overall, I think the city fared pretty well," said Mayor Richard Alcombright after a four-hour assessment of the damage with public service officials. "We had no storm-related casualties so, first of all, life and limb was protected."
Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said emergency services thought they were prepared for the deluge but the number of calls was still overwhelming.
"During the height of the storm there was one 90-minute period we were getting three calls a minute; so there was some 330 calls within a 90-minute stretch," he said. And that was just to the Emergency Operations Center; police dispatch and 911 were also being inundated.
"We had opened up the Emergency Operation Center at 5 o'clock on Saturday and we staffed it all through the night and nothing happened, and nothing happened, until like 10 o'clock on Sunday ... it was like somebody threw a switch," he said.
But as fast as the water rose, it fell. River Street was flooded at around noon but just wet a few hours later. Muddy water cascaded over the Eclipse Dam and the Hoosic River overflowed its banks south to Adams and west toward Williamstown.
More than 30 people sought aid at the emergency shelter that was moved from Drury High School to St. Elizabeth's Parish Center because of flooding and debris along Church and Ashland streets, West Shaft Road and Hodges Cross Road. Walmart closed when the water began to rise in the southeast corner of the building and requested shelter for some employees if they couldn't get home.
All but six evacuees from Beaver Street were sent back home or found haven with friends and family by Sunday night. Those who could were eager to return to their homes. "I am delighted to go home," said an Ashton Avenue resident who became aware of the flooding in her neighborhood when a "gorgeous" firefighter knocked on the door.
Lou and Dot Etman, however, were considering walking back to their powerless home on Beaver Street after spending the day watching TV and playing cards in the center's gym.
"I'd rather be up there than back here," said Lou Etman. "I'd rather be home."
The normally placid Beaver Street Dam was churning on Monday. The river washed out a section of McCauley Road, which leads to Natural Bridge State Park.
Alan Cohen, the Etmans' neighbor, said the water was rushing in from in back of his home and pouring down Bluff Road from the front. "The bus had drive around these rocks and branches in the road," he said.
Beaver Street was reopened on Monday, a layer of gritty dirt still left from the flooding, and the shelter and the EOC closed. Also reopened were Miner, Ashland and State streets.
Currently, Crest Street and Bluff Road (which has been closed at the top since a similar storm in 2005) are closed to traffic; Pattison Road near the reservoirs is open to local traffic only.
There was flooding damage to a number of roads and areas, ranging from minor to significant. Sections of West Shaft Road and State Street were undermined, and the streets are littered with debris and mud.
"I would say it's in the millions," said Alcombright, of the cost of cleanup. "When we look at the road damage, it's not so much what we can fix it's what we can't fix."
West Shaft Road can be patched, he said, but Crest Street will require engineering work and a major construction company. The city has been in communication with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and with U.S. Rep. John W. Olver's office.
Morocco credited fire, police and ambulance personnel for their efforts, along with the hospital, volunteers, BerkshireRides, St. Elizabeth's, the building, health and school departments and the mayor's office, along Big Y and Subway providing sustenance. The National Guard sent two Humvees and four drivers to aid in rescues and patrols in waterlogged areas.
"In retrospect we had good plans and set things in place and it worked pretty well," he said.
There was concern about the ability to transport patients out of the area and for the ambulance to reach higher elevations, said North Adams Ambulance General Manager John Meaney Jr. "There was a point yesterday where it was unsafe to put any trucks on the road because of the washouts, so getting somebody to [Berkshire Medical Center] or Baystate [Medical Center} was literally impossible."
The service also covers parts of Southern Vermont and turned coverage over to Deerfield Valley Ambulance when Route 100 became impassable. Route 2 is currently impassable past the Savoy/Florida line because of bridge damage and landslides but Meaney said the ambulance will be able to cover Florida.
The Fire Department was pumping out basements on Monday as officials toted up damage.
The city's Emergency Operations Center was housed at the North Adams Ambulance Service on River Street. It opened Saturday evening and closed Monday morning.
The reservoirs and Windsor Lake were drained by at least a foot. Historic Valley Campground was closed Saturday at noon, as were state campgrounds, and is expected to reopen Tuesday. There is some road damage in the campground that has to be repaired and beach erosion at the lake.
"We had dozens of calls this morning of yards being washed out but we're going to do what we can," said Lescarbeau, who said the public projects had to come first.
Alcombright said Lescarbeau had "that awful job of prioritizing because obviously people are going to want things fixed, but it's going to be a matter of time and resources. We just ask people to continue to be patient.
"There was just a great level of cooperation. People remained calm, we tried to deal with people as best we could," he continued. "I would just ask people in the spirt of that, knowing what's ahead for the city, to still be patient."
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