‘Our house was an island’: Property owners reckon with aftermath of flooding

  • State Sen. Eric P. Lesser talks with Linda Wood about the damage done to her home caused by the flooding on East Street in Belchertown Sunday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Linda Wood talks about the damage done to her home caused by the flooding on East Street in Belchertown Sunday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Linda and Steve Wood talk about the damage done to their home caused by the flooding Sunday on East Street in Belchertown. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • State Rep. Jacob R. Olivera, kneeling, state Sen. Eric P. Lesser, Belchertown Conservation Commission administrator Erica Larner and Select Board Chairwoman Jen Turner look over the damage on Wednesday morning caused by the flooding on East Street in Belchertown on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Linda Wood stands in what used to be a grass yard next to her porch which was covered in water talking about the damage done to her home by the flooding on East Street in Belchertown Sunday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A play structure damaged by the flooding on East street in the yard of Linda and Steve Wood. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Small boulders, mud and debris surround two vehicles after the flooding on East Street in Belchertown. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 7:02:01 AM

BELCHERTOWN — East Street resident Linda Wood said her basement, garage, driveway and property around her home were in several feet of water during the peak of the flooding on Sunday, and her house had essentially become an island surrounded by knee-deep water. A culvert that burst beneath the road caused a large section of East Street to collapse around 3 a.m., and Belchertown firefighters and police began warning residents to evacuate.

It wouldn’t be until the daylight hours that Wood and her neighbors began to see the extent of the damage. Wood said there was a large stream running through her washed-out driveway and into her backyard, where a large crater had formed with its own waterfall.

Next door, a large stream had swept up large amounts of mud and big rocks into their neighbors’ backyard. A treehouse lay 40 feet away where it had stood the day before. Nearly a dozen boats had been swept off residents’ properties and downstream toward the Swift River and were now somewhere in Bondsville or Palmer, an East Street resident said.

Lawns were covered in gravel and rocks. Cars were stuck in thick mud and debris.

On Wednesday, residents of East Street were joined by state lawmakers and town officials as they surveyed the aftermath of Sunday’s flooding, which left a massive crater in the road and damaged nearly a half dozen residential properties. Questions remain over the cost of repairs to East Street, homes, driveways, cars and other belongings as state Sen. Eric Lesser and state Rep. Jacob Oliveira together made the case that the state bears some responsibility.

As they met with residents and assessed the damage, Lesser and Oliveira both said they were calling upon state leadership to provide assistance to the town and its residents.

“The state needs to make this right,” Lesser said. “Town officials have done their part, local folks have done what they need to do. It’s at the top of our mind as a delegation. I’ve spoken with Senate leadership, and we will not rest until homeowners are made whole again. The state is not off the hook.”

Oliveira stated he is “dissatisfied” by the response so far by MassWildlife, the agency that manages the land where a beaver dam that failed Sunday contributed to flooding. He hopes the town can collect funding for repairs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Lesser and I are united for the state to take responsibility,” Oliveira said.

Beaver dam focus

Residents praised town officials for their rapid response and for working around the clock to make the roads passable after mud, large rocks and road debris had made their driveways and parts of East Street undriveable. By Wednesday morning, residents said they still had not heard anything from MassWildlife.

Attempts to reach Joe Rogers, the district manager of MassWildlife, which has an office on East Street, went unanswered Wednesday. At least one East Street resident said he had brought the presence and potential danger of beaver dams to the attention of MassWildlife before last week’s disaster.

Town officials determined that heavy rainfall over the weekend — and throughout the month — coupled with the beaver dam that broke were to blame for the unparalleled amount of flooding. Nearby East Street residents said water levels reached up to their knees, both in their basements and around their homes.

Erica Larner, the Belchertown Conservation Commission administrator, recounted on Wednesday the series of events that caused the road to collapse. Due to over 2 inches of rainfall from Saturday into Sunday, flash flooding upstream caused the beaver dam to burst. The ensuing powerful waters clogged a culvert beneath East Street, which blew out and caused a nearly 20-foot-long, nearly 15-foot-deep section of the road to collapse.

Repairs to the road will be “quite expensive,” and much of the debris from the road collapse remains to be cleared, Larner said. There remains a second beaver dam a half-mile upstream on MassWildlife preservation land that poses “an ongoing risk” to residents, Larner said. She estimated that repairs to the road could range from $500,000 to $750,000 to complete.

Properties flooded

“Sunday morning we were woken up by firefighters knocking on our door,” Linda said. “We were asked if we wanted to evacuate. Our house was an island. We decided not to evacuate and to stay to protect the property. We worked feverishly to divert the water.”

In the middle of the flooding early Sunday morning, Linda said her husband, Steven, had gone outside to put large wooden boards around the house to try to divert the engulfing floodwaters, which were wrapping around the porch and all around the house.

“It was one man facing billions of gallons of water,” she said of her husband. When she looked out her cellar window in the early hours of Sunday morning, she could see they were completely underwater. “It’s a miracle they held,” she said.

Another culvert underneath the Wood’s driveway had been knocked loose during the flooding on Sunday, and a large stream had cut their driveway off from East Street. By Wednesday morning, the culvert was reinstalled with a second, 24-foot culvert beneath the repaired driveway. A new stream, where only a small brook occasionally ran, was still loudly rushing into the two culverts beneath the driveway into their neighbor’s yard on Wednesday.

Large black chunks of East Street pavement lay in the woods near where the new culverts were installed.

“Our property looks completely different than it used to,” Linda said.

Steven said they’ve been working long hours since Sunday to clear the debris. He hired an excavator to clear his driveway of large rocks and debris, which has cost him thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The Woods described how their garage was filled with several feet of dirty water, and pumping out the water proved difficult as debris got caught in the pump.

The Woods have lived on East Street for more than 20 years, and in the past, Steven has brought the presence and danger of beaver dams to the attention of MassWildlife. He said under past management, it was taken care of, but in recent years, the beaver dams have not been properly managed.

Steven said when he recently brought the issue of beaver dams to MassWildlife, he was told he would have to deal with it himself. He estimates that fixing damages to his property could add up to $40,000 and that six of his eight acres of property “won’t be the same.”

He said he was encouraged by the optimism from the state lawmakers in recouping funds from the state and federal government, but he still feels a sense of uncertainty.

“I don’t know where the money will come from,” said Steven, adding that he is also trying to plan his retirement.

Joe Kenneally, another resident on East Street, received a notification on Wednesday morning from his insurance company saying damages to his home would not be covered under their policy. His backyard now has a fast-running stream where mud and rocks form a small beachfront. Pieces of his family’s fire pit lay scattered in his backyard from the flood, and a treehouse lay several yards away, knocked down by floodwaters.

“They don’t give flood insurance if you don’t live in a flood zone,” Kenneally said.

Kenneally said that nearly a half-dozen boats were swept up in the flood on Sunday and that they had collected downstream of the Swift River somewhere in Bondsville or Palmer. “I still haven’t seen ours,” he said.

Rita Brougham, 87, has lived in her home on East Street for 50 years. Although there was once some basement flooding in the early 1980s, she had never seen flooding like this past weekend. She said she is still not using her running water for fear that it is contaminated from the flood.

Brougham said that the police called Sunday morning warning her to evacuate, and she left her home with help from her daughter, Carla Chaisson, who lives nearby.

Chaisson said the disaster was a “very unsafe situation and a great risk to life.”

“It’s part of dealing with nature,” Chaisson said, noting that her house has been struck by lightning three times since this past April. She said her car, which was in deep floodwaters, was most likely totaled due to damage to its electrical components.

“I’m never going to get the same value” for the car, Chaisson said. “How am I going to get a new car?”




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