Although some people may have found Irene’s punch to be weaker than they had expected, others say it was more than enough. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports on evacuations on the Westfield River in western Massachusetts.
About midday, officials in Chester heard of a possible breach at a dam upstream of town That was enough to evacuate about 50 people there who lived close to the Westfield River. Further downstream, in Huntington and in Westfield more were evacuated.
“When the river got high enough so it could crest that’s when we started moving people out. it came up really fast!”
Ed Mello is director of the Greater Westfield Medical Reserve Corps.
He says about 25 people were brought to the North Middle School, including Cindy Choquette, who lives in a first floor apartment with the Westfield River in the backyard
“Just got a change of clothes and we had to leave.”
Choquette, a nurse, got home from work just as police were asking people in her neighborhood to evacuate.
“I don’t know where to go, but I know I don’t want to stay here all night and sleep in a school. I don’t know what to do. It’s just vey confusing. I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
Choquette had been sitting in the school cafeteria for two hours with her upstairs neighbor, Diane Oliveras.
“I think I’m anxious because they’re not saying anything to us, what’s going on, if we can go back to our homes tonight. It’s a little nerve wracking.”
While Oliveras and Choquette were worried, others in town were exhilarated.
“This is awesome. The power of the water is just awesome to watch.”
Shelly Oleksak was part of a crowd of people peering over the Great River Bridge at the churning Westfield River
“It looks like an ocean. The waves are absolutely ridiculous.”
Melanie Ruffo , who has spent more than 30 years here, says she’s never seen the river quite like this.
“Oh my gosh! It’s just raging. I wouldn’t want to be caught in it thats for sure .”
Fortunately no one was caught in it.. Back at the North Middle School cots and meals were being delivered. And even if people got to go home last night the impact of the storm may not be over. Officials say they’ll be keeping their eye on this river, as well as the Housatonic and the Connecticut Rivers in the coming days.