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North Adams putting together the pieces after excessive flooding, state of emergency declaration

North Adams, Massachusetts was one of the Western Massachusetts communities hardest hit by heavy rain in recent days. The city was forced to declare a state of emergency as flooding impacted roads, homes, and other crucial pieces of infrastructure. Municipal workers have been laboring for hours on recovery, and water levels remain dangerously high through the city’s flood control system. Mayor Jennifer Macksey says cleanup efforts will continue through the day as roads are re-opened and debris is cleared. She spoke with WAMC this morning.

MACKSEY: So, on the ground, Josh, we had many of our roads, approximately 10 to 15 roads, washed out with debris coming from the mountainside, catch basins backfilling. We were specifically concerned about Church Street, State Street, and Brooklyn Street where we actually had road collapses. The team did a great job, and the team – including the highway department, the police department, of course, the fire department was out pumping out basements – but the team was trying to move as quickly as they can to make sure our residents were safe and our roadways were passable. We did have to temporarily close Church Street and a portion of State Street, which we were able to open last night. Brooklyn Street is still closed, and we hope to be able to do some temporary repairs on that and get that open today. But throughout the whole city, we took on a lot of water and had excessive flooding and in areas that we normally don't. Specifically, the water flowing from Clarksburg down through our storm water system- It just was a lot of water coming through, and we recognize that there are areas within the community that we need to focus on an improvement plan for the storm water system. But unfortunately, the way that we're getting these storms and the intensity of the rain, our plans to address that- We're not moving fast enough. But we are trying to be as responsive, but there needs to be a long-term better fix, which we're working toward. In the meantime, the team is still out there today, pumping out basements, cleaning up the roads, and then we're really accessing the damage. We're very fortunate to have [the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency] and a representative from Governor [Maura] Healey's office on site with us yesterday. So, we're hopeful that we may get some assistance from MEMA, but it's still up in the air on that. But the reality is the city of North Adams took on some heavy rain, we have some extensive damage, but no one got hurt. We had to evacuate about three homes. But we are working towards putting the city back together, and our primary focus is cleaning up all the streets so they're passable.

WAMC: Let's get into that- When you talk about cleaning up the streets make them passable today, what sections of the city are on the docket for Tuesday, this Tuesday cleanup?

So, State Street, we want to fill and pave so we can keep that open to two lanes of traffic. Church Street, we've got to wait for the water to stop coming off of the hill. But that is the focus. As well as- I can give you the whole laundry list, Josh. Millard Ave, Barth Street, Fuller, Frederick, Bryant, Eagle Street. We already talked a little bit about Brooklyn, Fulton Street, we're keeping an eye on Galvin Road, and of course, West Shaft Road. Those are the ones that took the hardest amounts of water, and then from there, those streets, roll down the stones, the debris, and everything on to other streets. You know, we're concerned about the Yale [Street], Holbrook [Street] area and cleaning up all the all of the rocks and the debris there as well. Our Main Street doesn't look too bad, we've got some corners that we need to clean up. But again, it's mostly our streets that are on hills and those that are at the bottom. But we're out there, the guys worked late last night. They started their day at 1am yesterday morning and worked until about seven or eight last night, took a break, and we're back at it at 6:30 this morning. So overall, all of our roads are passable, except for Brooklyn Street. We ask people to be careful and drive slow so they’re not flinging stones up into other drivers’ windshields, etc. We did have some trees down, which National Grid and the Fire Department took care of quickly. We were fortunate that we haven't lost power, and we just hope the rain gives us a little bit of reprieve- But the weather forecast thing call for that over the next couple of days. So, that's kind of where we're at in North Adams, Josh.

For years, the community group the Hoosic River Revival has talked about the problems with the city's flood control system that sends the river through these iconic concrete shots that weave through North Adams. Any thoughts on that push to update or modify flood control system in the wake of this?

Absolutely. Thank goodness we had them. There are some areas in the Union Street where the walls are down, where you can see the water undermining the walls. But that is a very important project. If we didn't have the flood control system, we probably wouldn't have a city, so thank God we had them. They're about at 75% capacity, I would say right now. They probably died down a little bit from yesterday. But that is definitely a project that is on the forefront of my administration, and that is a project that the city of North Adams needs to get done. Without it, we would have been in big trouble yesterday. We kind of probably would have been like Wilmington was years ago when they got flooded. So, we're grateful that we have it. We know that we need to make improvements to it. And that's what we're going to focus on as we move forward.

What's your message to folks in North Adams who are facing flooding damage and need to reach out to the city for assistance? How do they do that most effectively?

Yeah. So certainly, most effectively, my first course of action is to call the city yard at 413-662-3157. You're also welcome to email me directly at MayorMacksey@NorthAdams-ma.gov, or give my office a call, which is 413-662-3000, extension 3216. And then if it is after hours, certainly call into our dispatch center, which is 413-664-4944, and you have to hit extension 1 and report your issue to the dispatcher and we will dispatch a crew to try to help you as much as possible. And I also want to add, Josh, that the residents in North Adams have been so helpful. Many of them, if they see a manhole that's plugged, they've gotten out and cleaned the debris. This is an unfortunate situation. We did have to declare a local emergency, but to see the neighbors helping one another and even helping our crews- I'm very grateful for the community we have.

Lastly, any safety warnings at this time? Anything people should know as far as protecting themselves as this cleanup continues?

Yeah. So, when you see a city crew, please drive slowly around them. Please yield to the traffic person, whether it be a police officer or a city yard person directing traffic. When you see a road with lots of rocks and debris, either avoid it or go slow through it, and especially stay away from our flood control chute. The river is very, very high and moving rapidly. So just stay away from all of that until it calms down.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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