Flooding, outages stay as reminders of storm’s wrath

By Peter Schworm and Jaime Lutz
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / August 31, 2011

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Two days after Irene lashed the state, large swaths of Western Massachusetts battled persistent and widespread flooding that has damaged an untold number of houses and washed out roads and bridges from the Berkshires to the Connecticut River.

As power outages lingered in the eastern part of the state yesterday, closing schools and courthouses and disrupting daily routines, about two dozen western towns battled high waters left in the storm’s wake.

In Greenfield, where overflowing rivers swamped dozens of homes and knocked out a waste water treatment plant, sewage poured into the Deerfield River, prompting a health advisory. In Ashfield, a small town northwest of Springfield in the eastern foothills of the Berkshires, the floods ravaged local roads.

“We have 46 roads in Ashfield, and 36 of them are damaged or closed,’’ said Doug Field, the town’s emergency manager. The road conditions forced many residents to bike to work, he said.

With swollen streams and creeks surging into primary rivers, emergency officials warned that the flood waters are likely to linger.

“It’s not worsening, but it’s not getting better,’’ said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency. “The rivers have crested, but it’s going to take some time.’’

Officials are installing temporary bridges in Adams and Buckland and sending divers to inspect a bridge over the Deerfield River on Interstate 91.

“We are taking extra precautions to make sure it’s safe,’’ said Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the state transportation department.

The storm also severely damaged a bridge in the western town of Florida, and caused a mudslide near a bridge in Savoy. Stretches of other state roads remained closed yesterday, although some were expected to reopen today.

On a tour of Western Massachusetts on Monday, Governor Deval Patrick expressed amazement at the scope of the damage and relief that more people were not injured.

Irene claimed at least 40 lives in its destructive march up the Eastern Seaboard, including one in Massachusetts. On Monday, a 52-year-old Southbridge man was electrocuted when he touched a porch railing that had come into contact with a downed wire.

Irene also caused an unprecedented number of power outages across the state, and yesterday afternoon some 218,000 customers remained without electricity. Outages were concentrated on the South Shore, Cape Cod, and suburbs west of Boston.

Utilities said they working quickly to restore power and reported that outages had dropped by more than half since late Monday. On Sunday evening, utilities reported more than 640,000 outages.

Numerous school districts, including Hopkinton and Bridgewater-Raynham, closed school yesterday because of power outages, and Bridgewater-Raynham also closed today. Some, like Marlborough, pushed back the first day of school to next week.

“Unfortunately, the power outages remain widespread and will take time to fix,’’ said Anthony Pope, the school system’s superintendent. “There are still a significant number of people in the city without power.’’

To the west, in Ashfield, today was supposed to be the first day of school. But after Irene pelted the town with nearly 10 inches of rain, summer vacation will last one more week.

Ashfield is one of several Franklin County towns battling Irene’s damaging aftermath. Lying directly in Irene’s path and dotted with rivers and brooks, the county was keenly vulnerable, officials said.

In Shelburne Falls, several homes and businesses sustained major damage when the Deerfield River overflowed, leaving some people without a place to live, said Larry Bernier, a town fireman.

“I’m not totally sure where they are staying,’’ Bernier said. The town received 8 1/2 inches of rain.

In Northampton, officials are recommending that residents evacuate the flooded Oxbow area. They said some damaged buildings will probably be declared uninhabitable.

In Conway, which received nearly 10 inches of rain, the highest recorded in the state, more than a dozen roads were damaged and the downtown was inundated with four feet of water when a river wall was destroyed.

In the state’s northwest corner, a mobile home park in Williamstown was flooded, displacing more than 400 residents. The homes cannot be lived in until the utility connections are tested, said Peter Fohlin, the town manager. Almost all of the displaced were taken in by friends and family.

In and around Boston, transportation services largely returned to normal. Trains, including the Acela high speed rail, were back in operation between Boston and New York. Northbound service between Philadelphia and New York, however, remained closed because of flooding and debris on the tracks.

At Logan International Airport, airlines had resumed normal schedules and were working to carry stranded passengers to their destinations.

Chris Reidy of the Globe staff and correspondent Christina Reinwald contributed to this report. Schworm can be reached at Follow him on twitter @globepete.