Ice builds up along the South Main Street bridge on the Millers River in Athol on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Photo by Dan LittleFlood waters from the Millers River approach Morton Meadows apartments in Athol on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Photo by Dan LittleTravis Brailey pumps water out of the flooded basement of a home on Walnut Street in Athol as local Fire Departments respond to flooding along the Millers River on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Photo by Dan LittleThe South Main Street Bridge in Athol shows the ice flow to the brim of its underside Saturday morning. Rising waters on the Millers River have impacted the homes of residents living close to the river and forced the evacuation of the residents from the low-lying Morton Meadows complex just around the bend in the river.  Photo by Deborrah Porter/Athol Daily NewsAthol officials say that an ice mass that broke off near this area of the  L.S. Starrett Company on Crescent Street in Athol, flowed downstrean and hit the Exchange Street Bridge shortly after 7:00 a.m. Saturday. The rising ice and force of the impact was witnessed by the DPW Superintendent Doug Walsh and a police officer who were monitoring the situation.   Photo by Deborrah Porter/Athol Daily NewsThe Exchange Street bridge was closed to traffic early a morning due to damage from a chunk of ice that broke off upstream on the Millers River. The ice jams migrated to the area between the South Main Street bridge and the area of the river near the town’s wastewater treatment plant.   Photo by Deborrah Porter/Athol Daily NewsAthol and Phillipston firefighters went door to door checking on residents at Morton Meadows off South Main Street in Athol Saturday morning. They evacuated residents due to the rapidly rising Millers River. A school bus from Merrifield Bus Company and ambulances were used to transport residents to the Athol Town Hall Saturday morning.      Athol Daily News Staff/Deborrah PorterToo early for River Rats? The water on the Millers River continues to rise Saturday due to the pounding rain on Friday. The land at the former Mount Pleasant Building in Athol, the starting point of the annual Athol Lions Club River Rat Race, is flooded. Photo by Mike Phillips Athol Daily NewsIt was reported that ice flowing under the Exchange Street Bridge in Athol damaged parts of its structure Saturday morning. There were a couple of hangers like the one pictured here that were broken off and swept downstream toward the water treatment plant.  Exchange Street has been closed to traffic until it is inspected by the state.   Courtesy photo submitted by Rhonda SmithFirefighters from Athol and Phillipston converged on the Morton Meadows residential area in Athol Saturday morning to evacuate residents as a precaution due to the rapidly rising Millers River situated just a few hundred feet from the structures. Photo by Deborrah Porter/Athol Daily News

Rising waters in Athol prompts evacuations

ATHOL – Seventy-year-old Jim Herbert was one of many Athol residents who lined both sides of the South Main Street Bridge Saturday afternoon, amazed by the massive shards of ice jamming the Millers River as far as the eye could see.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Herbert, who has lived in Athol since the first grade.

After a mass of ice broke free from the river early Saturday morning raising flooding concerns, the 26 occupied apartments at the Morton Meadows elderly housing complex were evacuated, according to Morton Meadows Director Christi Martin and Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. Water came just a few feet from the building closest to the river, though there have not been any reports of injury to residents or safety personnel throughout town.

By 6 p.m., Suhoski said, all residents had either found overnight shelter with loved ones or at hotels, or were provided accommodations through the Salvation Army in conjunction with United Way. Some residents temporarily found shelter at the emergency holding area and feeding center set up in the basement of Town Hall.

“There’s a lot of tenants who are sick or disabled,” said Martin, who accompanied the residents to Town Hall. “It was hard on them today.”

Lt. Michael Buzzard of the Salvation Army’s Athol Corps, which oversaw the evacuation center, said the Salvation Army arranged for residents with special needs and medical conditions to stay in nursing homes, and transported them there if needed.

Though Suhoski said there are no plans to open a formal shelter as the risk is limited to very specific properties, Martin and Buzzard agreed her residents may remain evacuated for days.

All residents, Martin said, were told to retrieve any medications during the evacuation, and Buzzard said the Salvation Army is prepared to provide them with clean clothes. Still, some residents were left feeling unprepared.

Sitting in Town Hall, Barbara McLaren, 64, recounted the morning of confusion that saw her leaving her Morton Meadows apartment without a toothbrush or clean clothes.

“You don’t really have time to breathe,” Martin agreed about the unexpectedly hectic day.

As of 4 p.m., McLaren hadn’t decided where she would spend the night out of concern for her 14-year-old Poodle mix Buddy.

“If my dog can’t go, I can’t go,” she said. McLaren said she’d likely seek a hotel in Gardner or Greenfield once she could find a comfortable home for Buddy.

Causing damage

The initial rush of ice Saturday morning affected more than just Morton Meadows. It is believed that ice near the L.S. Starrett impoundment let go at around 7 a.m.

“It’s an unusual occurrence for ice to break in the manner that it did,” said Athol Police Chief Russell Kleber.

Soon after, the rapidly rising mass of ice was witnessed striking the Exchange Street Bridge by Department of Public Works Superintendent Douglas Walsh and a police officer, Suhoski said.

Officials decided to close the Exchange Street Bridge after the ice swept several “hangars” that secure a 10-inch water main to the bridge’s underside downstream, Suhoski continued. A portion of the water main was shut-down as a precaution, but no customers were impacted, he said.

The bridge was closed to traffic out of concerns of unseen structural damage, and Suhoski said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will inspect the bridge before the road is reopened.

From the Exchange Street Bridge, the ice jam migrated to the area between the South Main Street Bridge and the town’s wastewater treatment plant, Suhoski said. The DPW advised the plant is experiencing very high flow, but that all systems are currently secure.

Dealing with the aftermath

The prime focus of safety personnel, Suhoski said, is the stretch of the Millers River from the South Main Street Bridge to a bend and sand bar roughly a half-mile west, where large chunks of ice are clogging the river and backing up water.

At around 3 p.m., firefighters from the Athol, Royalston and Petersham fire departments could be seen removing water from the lower levels of homes on Canal Street and laying down sandbags to hold back any future flooding. As temperatures dropped, the spewing water created large frozen puddles in the residents’ backyards.

Meanwhile, all roads into Morton Meadows were barricaded. Buzzard said that in addition to helping evacuated residents, the Salvation Army will provide coffee and dinner to first responders.

Relief efforts involved many different organizations, including the Salvation Army, the Athol-Orange Housing Authority, the Athol Fire Department and Athol town staff.

The Massachusetts State Police air wing also flew reconnaissance along the branches of the Millers and Tully rivers to pinpoint areas of concern, Suhoski said.

The town notified neighboring and downstream communities, Suhoski said. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers at Birch Hill Dam is limiting the river’s flow and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is standing by to assist.

Neighboring impact

However, Athol wasn't the only town affected by flooding. Doanes Hill Road in Royalston was closed to traffic late Saturday afternoon due to potential flooding from Tully Dam, according to Jeff Mangum, project manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Tully Lake.

"We are holding back water at the Birch Hill and Tully dams due to the flooding situation in Athol, and are closing the road due to potential flooding in the Doanes Hill Road area," he said. "We will eventually be letting the water go, and are monitoring the situation very closely."

The water level at Tully Dam was at 18 feet Saturday morning. By late afternoon, it had risen to 19.3 feet.

"We are storing a lot of water," said Mangum.

Remembering flooding

Near the South Main Street Bridge, flooding visibly impacted one home on the riverbank that saw water rise about one foot up the garage door.

On the other side of the bridge, Raymond Place residents and brothers Richard Dzeima, 47, and Dennis Dzeima, 50, experienced flooding in their backyard. High water levels, though, didn’t phase the two.

“The water comes up, but never the ice,” Dennis Dzeima said.

“We’ve had water about as high as this when we were scared and ready to leave, but never ice like this,” Richard Dzeima added.

The brothers have lived on Raymond Place for 40 years and have seen plenty of days of high water. On Saturday, Dennis Dzeima needed to retrieve his motorcycle, which was in the backyard, from underwater.

“I’ve seen this many times,” agreed Pete Gerry, 68, of Athol. “They’ve evacuated several times.”

Gerry, who said he’s lived in Athol all his life, recounted how “30 or 40 years ago, they’d dynamite” the lodged ice.

Looking down from the South Main Street Bridge, Gerry pointed out the logs and tree limbs the ice had picked up along the riverbank. Once the ice washes away, he said, all the debris will be cleared.

“Mother nature is pruning its riverbanks,” he said.

___

Athol Daily News Staff Reporter Deborrah Porter contributed to this story.

___

This story was updated at 7:45 p.m., Saturday. The original story is as follows:

ATHOL – A mass of ice broke free along the Millers River early Saturday morning forcing the evacuation of the Morton Meadows housing complex and the closure of the Exchange Street Bridge, according to town manager Shaun A. Suhoski.

As of 10 a.m. there are no reports of injuries.

As a precaution against flooding danger, the town temporarily evacuated the residents of the 28-apartment Morton Meadows to the Town Hall until family or friends can assist. Most residents are with family and about 10 residents are currently sheltered with the town. There are no plans to open a formal shelter as the risk is limited to very specific properties.

The initial rush of ice caused several “hangars” that secure a 10-inch water main to the underside of the Exchange Street Bridge to be swept downstream. A portion of the water main was shut-down as a precaution, but, no customers have been impacted.

Due to the risk of other unseen damage, the bridge has been closed to traffic. MassDOT has been advised and an inspection by a bridge team has been requested before the road is reopened, according to Suhoski.

The town has notified neighboring and downstream communities. The Army Corps of Engineers at Birch Hill Dam is aware and limiting the river’s flow. The Mass. Emergency Management Agency has been advised and is standing-by to assist.

The Athol Fire Dept. has been monitoring several points in river for the past week. Athol Fire Chief John Duguay checked the river at about 5:30 this morning at several locations and reported the river was flowing freely.

About 7 a.m. it is believed that ice at or near the L.S. Starrett impoundment let go, and the ice mass hit the Exchange Street Bridge shortly after 7 a.m.

The rapidly rising ice and water flow was witnessed impacting the bridge by the DPW superintendent and a police officer.

The flow tore several hangars that secure the water main to the underside of the bridge. The ice jam migrated to the area between the South Main Street bridge and the area of the river near the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

Late this morning, said Suhoski, the DPW advised that the plant is experiencing very high flow, but that all systems are currently secure.

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Athol Daily News

PO Box 1000
225 Exchange Street
Athol, MA 01331
Phone: (978) 249-3535

 

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