Irene's damage: Heavy toll and a shift in emergency planning

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SAVOY — For most residents, life was back to normal within the first few weeks after Tropical Storm Irene.

But several towns in Berkshire County grappled with damage to their infrastructure for months — and in some instances years — after the 2011 storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in some places.

Though largely covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency and state support, some of the most extensive repairs took months and even years to complete in the storm's wake. Some towns are still feeling the storm's effects.

FEMA reimbursed towns $8.8 million for approved projects, which it funds at 75 percent, in the wake of Irene, according to a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The flooding of the Spruces Mobile Home Park in Williamstown was so severe that residents of all 225 units were permanently displaced. With the assistance a grant of more than $6 million from FEMA, the residents were relocated, and the town eventually purchased the 116-acre parcel, which is now uninhabited.

Aside from those displaced from the Spruces, the relatively few who traveled or lived on Black Brook Road in Savoy may have been most acutely affected by the storm. The heavy rains — measured at more than 9 inches in Savoy — washed away a massive section of the road so large it could be spotted on satellite imagery.

Though not a highly traveled route, Black Brook is an important artery through the town of Savoy for some commuters and emergency service providers.

With its small tax base, it took Savoy three years to navigate available funding sources through the federal and state governments before finalizing the repairs to the road, which eventually cost $7.5 million.

"We basically had to convince FEMA that it needed to be fixed in the only way it could be fixed," said Select Board Chairman John Tynan. "They don't just hand out the money without a lot of evidence."

After several years of engineering, work to rebuilt the torn road began last year and is expected to be completed in October, Tynan said.

Initially estimated at about $4 million, as the years went on and engineers provided assessments, the cost came closer to $7 million, but officials say the road will be better prepared for the next major storm.

"We wanted to do it the best way to avoid another disaster down there," he said. "That's what took so long."

The town of Adams spent the first years after Irene struck repairing the damage caused to several of its neighborhoods, including rebuilding a culvert on East Road, part of which washed away in the storm.

"We've recovered from my perspective," said Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco. "We did do some borrowing after Irene for some repairs and other things which we've paid off this past year."

In Clarksburg, the East Road Bridge was closed for more than a year after Irene's rains rendered it unsafe. The repairs totaled $275,000.

In North Adams, the City Council signed off on a $2.2 million borrowing plan to fix damaged infrastructure which, thanks to federal support, ultimately only resulted in the city effectively borrowing about $550,000.

Part of Crest Street washed out and the storm caused significant damage to West Shaft Road, which was part of the city's repair efforts in the months after the storm. Several other roads were repaired by the city's Department of Public Works in the weeks following Irene.

Those who traveled on Route 2 were handcuffed by substantial damage the storm caused between Florida and Charlemont. A six-mile stretch of road there required more than $34.5 million in federal- and state-funded repairs, which included re-engineering and resurfacing. The road did not reopen until December.

North Adams recovered quickly after the storm, but the heavy rains did cause further damage to the city's already-aging concrete flood chutes, according to Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau.

Though it happened nearly three years after the storm, Mayor North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright believes that a landslide on Beaver Street may have been precipitated by Irene.

The storm has also had a lasting impact on how town officials prepare for potential disasters.

"We actually discussed hurricane preparedness at an emergency management meeting earlier this week," Mazzucco said, "so the lessons and experience from Irene is very much still with us even if there really aren't any physical indications left."

Irene's Fury ...

Here are some details on Tropical Storm Irene's impact on the East Coast, Berkshire County and Southern Vermont on Aug. 27-28, 2011:

Total deaths: 48

Total damage, U.S.: $15.6 billion

Area deaths: 6 in Vermont (including one in Wilmington).

Rainfall totals: 4-5 inches in the Berkshires, 6-9 inches in Vermont.

• Pittsfield Municipal Airport: 4.7 inches.

• Savoy observer: 9 inches

• Harriman & West Airport, North Adams: 5.2 inches

• Bennington (Airport): 4.2 inches.

Total damage, Berkshire County: $40 million.

• North Adams: $4.5 million

• Adams: $2 million

• Great Barrington: $435,000

• Monterey: $400,000

• Otis: $150,000

Federal direct aid to 750 Berkshire residents: $4.3 million

Total damage, Vermont: $733 million.

Federal direct aid to Vermont residents: $117 million.

Vermont damage: 3,500 homes, 500 miles of roads, 200-plus bridges, 11 town office buildings, five fire stations, numerous water systems, 90 public schools. 2,200 roads, bridges washed away, 13 towns isolated.

Sources: National Hurricane Center; National Weather Service; AccuWeather.com; Eagle archives.


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