Highway, public safety departments kept busy in wake of relentless rainfall

  • Turners Falls Fire Chief John Zellmann Jr. talks with Allen Phillips of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), in black, and members of the Montague Department of Public Works in front of 38 and 34 East Main St. in Millers Falls, which were both flooded by heavy rains overnight. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Bob Obear, owner of the buildings in the background flooded by high water in Miller Falls, points to the washout that happened when water flowed over the railroad tracks and through his property. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • East Main Street in Millers Falls was being cleaned up Monday morning for the second time in 24 hours due to heavy rains. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Bob Obear, owner of the buildings in the background flooded by high water in Miller Falls, examines the washout that happened when water flowed over the railroad tracks and through his property. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • An SUV sits in a sinkhole at 20 to 26 Newton St. in Miller Falls, which was damaged by high water Sunday afternoon and again early Monday morning. A sign reading “Building cannot be occupied until a structural evaluation has been conducted” is affixed to the door. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • The swollen Millers River in Millers Falls as seen on Monday morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 7/19/2021 5:47:54 PM
Modified: 7/19/2021 5:47:58 PM

Multiple towns in Franklin County have declared local states of emergency as highway and public safety departments work to combat damage incurred by the weekend storm.

Most problems with town roadways and instances of private property damage were reported in Montague, Northfield, Warwick, Athol and Orange. Some roads and bridges remained closed Monday after relentless rainfall buried much of the area in water over the weekend.

Montague

Photos of washed-out roads and at least one collapsed driveway in Millers Falls made the rounds on social media Sunday, as the Turners Falls Fire Department and the Montague Department of Public Works worked to remedy the damage.

DPW Superintendent Tom Bergeron said he started work on Sunday at 5:30 a.m. and found a foot and a half of mud on East Main Street in Millers Falls. He said he mobilized most of his crew, and got big payloaders to scrape the roads and a vacuum truck to clean all catch basins. Bergeron then got called out again for the same problem Sunday night and his crew made sure all roads were passable.

“It looks all brand new down there now,” he said Monday, adding that hoses were used to spray down East Main Street. He said he intended to send a sweeper to every street in Millers Falls.

Bob Obear said the rainstorms resulted in the displacement of the roughly 15 tenants of the 11-unit apartment building he owns at 38 East Main St. He said the American Red Cross put up the tenants in a hotel and gave each a stipend for expenses throughout the week.

Most of the damage was done to the building’s basement and structure, and not the units. Obear said on Monday the basement contained 7 feet of water, which was being pumped out with the help of the fire and public works departments. He said he hopes to return his tenants to their home in a week or so.

Dan Hunt, who owns and operates The Whistle Stop Cafe at 29 East Main St. said the roadway was cleaned up at around 10 a.m. on Monday.

“Yesterday morning, it was covered with mud. And, of course, it went right down Franklin Street,” he said. “They got it all cleaned up. They did well.”

Hunt said the condition of East Main Street forced him to be closed on Sunday, perhaps his busiest day of the week. Still, he put out coffee for emergency workers.

“I wouldn’t want to be out there all day with no coffee,” Hunt said.

Cindy Bayer, who owns the Rustic Romance antique shop at 26 East Main St. and a depot filled with architectural salvage and farm finds on the corner of East Main and Franklin streets, said she opted against opening on Sunday, citing the dangerous conditions.

“We did not suffer any damage whatsoever, thankfully. Both of our stores were spared,” she said Monday afternoon. “But even though we had power, it wasn’t a good idea for people to come downtown. There was no place to park and there was debris and mud everywhere.”

Bayer said the fire department turned off her power as a precaution, and brought portable emergency lighting and a generator to get the store’s dehumidifier running. A couple of boxes of paper bags were her only losses.

“It could have been far worse,” she said.

Bayer said emergency workers went above and beyond to handle what nature had thrown at the village.

Montague Police Chief Christopher Williams said there were reports of flooded basements in all five villages — Millers Falls, Turners Falls, Montague City, Montague Center and Lake Pleasant — though Millers Falls was the most affected.

“They’re really the only location that I am aware of that’s had that intense of damage,” Williams said.

He also said there were a few reports of wires downed by fallen trees.

Orange

Orange Police Chief James Sullivan said the most substantial closure was the section of North Orange’s Main Street from Wheeler Avenue to North Main Street, though the bridge over the Tully River north of the Tully City Council Club has been temporarily closed out of concern the back-to-back storms may have compromised its structural integrity. Sullivan said he joined the department in 2004 and this is some of the worst rain he has seen.

“We need some sun,” he said, adding that he has not been made aware of any injuries. “I think everybody’s sick of the rain.”

Sullivan had also heard about issues on Oxbow Road.

He mentioned the need for citizens to respect road and bridge closures, saying they are for the public’s safety. He said he noticed families with young children frolicking on the closed bridge spanning the Tully River at Millyard Road. Raging river water was pouring onto the structure and he said this type of activity is extremely dangerous, having the potential to sweep away people and animals.

“They’re closed for a reason,” Sullivan said.

Northfield

Northfield had declared a state of emergency at around 8 a.m. on Sunday in response to the storm. Gulf Road, Four Mile Brook Road, Orange Road, School Street, Dickinson Street and River Road were closed Sunday.

“We got slammed pretty good,” Northfield Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell III said Monday morning. “There was some significant infrastructure damage.”

According to Dunnell, sections of Four Mile Brook Road were lost as the brook overflowed. The dirt road was impassable until 2 p.m. Sunday. Unfortunately, Dunnell said the 3 inches of rain that continued overnight into Monday had taken out a repaired section of Four Mile Brook Road.

Meanwhile, Gulf Road was open to local traffic only, and is expected to remain closed until Tuesday evening.

“We worked 20 hours yesterday, then went home for a little while and started back this morning at 6 o’clock,” Northfield Highway Department Superintendent Tom Walker recounted Monday.

As Northfield’s emergency management director, Dunnell said he contacted Selectboard Chair Heath Cummings who declared the state of emergency. This will remain in place until sections of Four Mile Brook Road and Orange Road are repaired.

In addition to the roadway damage, Dunnell said his department responded to some homes to pump out flooded cellars. One home had 3½ feet of water in the basement.

“Normal storm stuff,” Dunnell said.

Warwick

The Warwick Selectboard declared a state of emergency Sunday after having an emergency meeting to assess damage at the intersection of Wendell Road and Chestnut Hill Road. The Selectboard met Warwick Police Chief David Shoemaker, Warwick Police Sgt. John Stewart and Scott Flembotte of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to review damage done to lower Chestnut Hill Road.

Flembotte and Selectboard member Brian Snell noted many water sources in town were at or near capacity, and there was flooding around ponds and streams.

Snell and Town Coordinator David Young reported flooding and washout damage to driveways, fields, yards and private properties. Selectboard member Todd Dexter also noted concern for major emergency arteries, including Route 78 and Northfield Road as the Warwick Highway Department worked to clear roads for emergency services. An emergency trailer with cones, lights and other equipment was delivered by MEMA.

“There were emergency repairs made yesterday, but last night’s rain caused further damage,” Young said Monday morning. “There was mainly flooding and erosion damage. There are some trees on the edge of falling over because the ground is so saturated.”

According to Young, power outages remained at a minimum and there was virtually no impact on the town broadband system with few downed trees. Additionally, there are two culverts of concern on Wendell and Hockanum Hill roads that may require attention.

Roads in Warwick that were closed to through traffic Sunday included Richmond Road, Flower Hill Road, Wendell Road and Robbins Road. Temporary repairs were accomplished on Robbins Road, and crews worked to make Buzzell Place passable to emergency vehicles Sunday.

Greenfield

Due to the severe flash flooding, Nash’s Mill Road is closed and the Green River Swimming and Recreation Area is closed until further notice. The Greenfield Recreation Department and Fire Department could not be reached for further comment.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579. Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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