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W. Mass. Looks Back on Tropical Storm Irene

Hurricane Irene Approaches the Outer Banks
Courtesy NOAA
Hurricane Irene Approaches the Outer Banks

1 year after the remnants of Hurricane Irene flooded rivers and destroyed homes throughout the region, residents of Western Massachusetts are taking a look back at the progress the region has made in the on-going recovery. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports….

As in many areas in the Northeast, the rivers and valleys of Western Massachusetts flooded, destroying homes, businesses and infrastructure in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. Now one year later, some are reflecting about the impact of the storm and how it helped bring some communities closer together.

Al Bashevkin, Executive Director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, pointed out the strong efforts made by the faith community in their work to house and feed many of the displaced victims of the Spruces mobile home park in Williamstown that was decimated by the storm.

The non-profit Higher Ground was formed to assist Spruces residents find affordable housing. Coordinator Robin Lenz recently told WAMC this spring that even months after the flood, most residents of the park are without affordable housing.

That need in part led to the creation of Williamstown’s Affordable Housing Trust, which is being utilized to help find a suitable location for more affordable housing in the area.

Communities in Franklin County were among some of the hardest hit. Greenfield itself sustained more than $5 million in damages to highways, sewer systems, and more. Greenfield’s Director of Public Works Sandra Shields explains…

Greenfield’s efforts to restore its wastewater treatment plant were recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Sandra Shields said the action taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – or FEMA – helped the city complete its repairs quickly.

And in a federally funded study conducted by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission titled the Tropical Storm Irene After Action Report and Improvement Plan, the area’s municipalities were assessed on their ability to work together in the recovery efforts. Author of the report Lindsay Errichetto says that municipalities worked well in getting cross-community efforts in place, including emergency shelters.

Errichetto said that communication from municipalities to residents could have been improved, which is in fault to limited internet connectivity. Errichetto does say, though, that the area’s municipalities will be better prepared for a future storm.

In total, Irene caused almost $200 million in damage to Massachusetts alone. About 786,000 residents were without power. Last month, state Attorney General Martha Coakley recommended to the Department of Public Utilities that the Western Massachusetts Electric Company be fined $4 million for their poor response to both Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snow storm that left so many without power.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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