Irene: Spruces' flood devastated lives and homes

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WILLIAMSTOWN — When the rains of Tropical Storm Irene began on Aug. 28, 2011, most folks knew the storm would be big news. Weather predictions grew increasingly dire as high winds and tropical, consistently torrential, rains approached. At the Spruces Mobile Home Park, the situation became worse-case scenario in a matter of hours. The storm caused massive Hoosic River flooding in the low-lying Route 2 park. Despite initial hopes that at least a portion of the tightly-knit mostly senior citizen community could be saved, the 38-acre park was shut down permanently. The last of more than 300 residents left in 2015. The park is now empty, idle, and shows little hint of the 225 mobile homes once stationed there. Over $6 million of Federal Emergency Management Agency revenues were spent assisting flood victims and thousands more in donations and emergency supplies from private donors, financial institutions, and non-profits agencies and churches.

Victor Ziter and Lewis "Roy" Audette said they feel the loss of their former home despite purchasing a North Adams home in the North Street neighborhood.

"We loved it there," Ziter said. "We were a close-knit community, we had parties, barbecues, Christmas and Halloween parties, it was wonderful."

"It was a totally independent community," said Marilyn Kirby, who spent three decades there as a park resident. "Every neighbor looked out for neighbor. It was an experience to live there. There was nothing like it. There still isn't."

Kirby lives in North Adams at another Route 2 mobile home park now. The people are pleasant and the park is well-maintained but "It's not the same. It will never be the same. People that I encounter across the board say 'I miss the (Spruces) park.'"

Arthur and Mary Smith relocated immediately following the flood. Soon after the flood, Smith purchased a Union Street house. The home needed extensive work and financial investment, he said. It was months before his wife could move into the home and then, when she was stricken with ill health, the couple had to put the house on the market. They moved again to a small one floor apartment.

Tackling these situations as octogenarians was not in their plan, the couple said during a recent interview.

"We figured that being in the Spruces was the last stop and we loved it there," Mary Smith said.

"I thought we would go out feet first," Arthur Smith said. "I lost about $70K through all that and that's an awful lot at almost 80 years old."

Emotional and financial losses were abundant, all agreed.

"It was heartbreaking and its still heartbreaking," Kirby said. "We've lost so many people, and realizing that they passed (died) with this loss at the last part of their lives...it's devastating. I don't know if people ever understood how it was there."

There is resentment and some anger on Ziter's part, he said. He believes that despite many meetings with town and federal officials and the formation of several groups and committees, there was never a sincere desire to save any of the acreage as a mobile home park, he said.

"It was all nothing but being misled," Ziter said. "I truly believe they didn't know where to begin. I believe the Spruces was not fitting with the Village Beautiful."

Ziter and Audette created a vibrant homage to the Spruces along the steep sloping property of their new home. Plants, flowers, and foliage fill the space and there is a bench with special meaning, Audette said.

"When everyone was leaving, so many people gave me plants and flowers from their yards," he said. "Every flower and plant here came from the Spruces. The statues are from the Spruces. And this bench I will not part with. Never. This came from (park resident) Don Anderson, who was such a wonderful man."

Anderson was a retired town police dispatcher and Charles H. McCann Technical School English teacher. He passed away following the flooding.

Five years have come and gone and every surviving resident of the former park has had to pick up the pieces and move on. But forgetting is not likely, said Arthur Smith.

"I rode my bike around that park almost every day," he said. "People could know the time by seeing me on my bike. The newspaper (former North Adams Transcript) did a story about me riding my bike before the flooding. It was such a nice place, so friendly, everybody liked each other."

"And every day I miss it," he said.


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