Scores of tenants displaced by busted sprinkler system at Hadley housing complex

  • Hassan Elzeneiny sits in the Howard Johnson's lobby and talks about how difficult it has been to be displaced for the last two weeks from his home in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a water break in the sprinkler system. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Hilda Rivera sits in the Howard Johnson's lobby and talks about the relief she is feeling with the news that she and others displaced from their homes in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a break in the sprinkler system will receive services. The group was thrilled with the news that they could stay at the Howard Johnson's until they could move back and would get reimbursed with a food allowance. Rivera's apartments was badly damaged and she explained, "Its good news because there are many of us having trouble making ends meet." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Building 30 in the Vesta apartments in the process of being cleaned out after water damage displacing many families. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Connie Failace sits with Hassan Elzeneiny in the Howard Johnson's lobby after reading a letter outlining services she and others displaced from their homes in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a break in the sprinkler system will receive. The group was thrilled with the news that they could stay at the Howard Johnson's until they could move back and would get reimbursed with a food allowance. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hassan Elzeneiny sits in the Howard Johnson's lobby and reads a letter outlining services he and others displaced from their homes in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a break in the sprinkler system will receive. The group was thrilled with the news that they could stay at the Howard Johnson's until they could move back and would get reimbursed with a food allowance. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hassan Elzeneiny sits in the Howard Johnson's lobby and talks about how difficult it has been to be displaced for the last two weeks from his home in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a water break in the sprinkler system. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Building 34 at the Vesta Apartments in Hadley is cleaned out after water damage displaced many families. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Building 34 in the Vesta apartments being cleaned out after water damage displacing many families. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hilda Rivera, left, talks with Jane Nevinsmith, a volunteer at the Senior Center and a member of the Hadley Select Board, in the Howard Johnson’s lobby about the relief she is feeling with the news that she and others displaced from their homes in the Vesta Apartments in Hadley after a break in the sprinkler system will receive services. The group was thrilled with the news that they could stay at the Howard Johnson’s until they could move back and would get reimbursed with a food allowance. Rivera’s apartments was badly damaged and she explained, “It’s good news because there are many of us having trouble making ends meet.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2022 7:54:57 PM
Modified: 1/25/2022 7:53:40 PM

HADLEY — Woken up by a fire alarm early in the morning, Hilda Rivera heard water running in the bathroom and, checking to see if she’d left a faucet on, noticed water coming out from a light fixture.

Moments later, the water began pouring from the ceiling into her living room.

“It was literally raining in my apartment,” says Rivera, who recalls Hadley firefighters arriving to help her gather her belongings and evacuate her from the dwelling in one of the three-story buildings at Vesta Apartments.

Being in what she describes as the crosshairs, Rivera, 70, said the incident, at around 12:45 a.m on Jan. 14, marked the beginning of several difficult days for senior citizens and families who live at the affordable housing complex that straddles the Hadley-Amherst town line.

Tenants in Building 30, where senior citizens live, and in the nearby Building 34, for families, have been forced to stay at Route 9 hotels since the fire suppression systems malfunctioned. Some, like Rivera, are now at the Howard Johnson motel after initially staying at the Comfort Inn, while others are at Courtyard by Marriott and EconoLodge.

And most have been fretting over their situations, though they received good news from Konover Residential Corp., the West Hartford, Connecticut management company, early Tuesday afternoon, when each was hand-delivered a letter. Those letters pledge to allow them to stay at local hotels, that they will be reimbursed for meals until repairs are made, and that once municipal inspectors determine it is safe, they can return home.

Hadley Select Board member Jane Nevinsmith, who is also a volunteer at the Hadley Senior Center, said town officials have been offering significant help, including making sure a van is making stops at the hotels so those without cars can go on excursions, signing people up for meals on wheels if eligible, providing them access to the Amherst Survival Center and helping them get medication or other items from their apartments.

Nevinsmith estimated that at least a hundred people have been displaced.

The town is also working with Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Dan Carey to hold a meeting, tentatively set for Thursday at 6 p.m., that will provide information. People can participate via computer or by calling in.

Fire Chief Mike Spanknebel said substantial work needs to be done at both buildings, but he is speaking with the management team of Vesta Homes “who are working tirelessly to get folks back in as soon and as safely as possible.” A Unified Command meeting with management is planned for Wednesday afternoon, he said.

Cause unknown

At the site, work crews could be seen removing ceilings and insulation and installing new pipes.

“In the short term, we’ve arranged for our displaced residents to stay in local hotels, and we’ve already begun the repair and renovation work necessary to return them to their homes as quickly as possible,” Konover President Gregory Konover said in a statement. “We’re grateful that everyone is safe and our top priority is getting our residents back into their apartments just as soon as we can.”

Konover said Vesta officials are looking into the failure of the fire suppression system, and do not know what caused the “unusual events.” The complex opened in 2002.

“The systems in question are regularly maintained and we do not know what caused them to suddenly fail,” Konover said.

Similarly, at the neighboring Greenleaves Apartments, in Amherst, residents from 10 units of Building 24 had to be temporarily relocated following a partial fire sprinkler system failure, with two of the homes suffering minor water damage. Amherst Building Commissioner Rob Morra said contractors were on site repairing the fire suppression system.

For Hassan Elzeneiny, what is happening is not dissimilar to his own experience in a flooded apartment, though this time there was no damage to his home.

“My experience was simply being told I was being moved out to a hotel,” said Elzeneiny, 67. “I had to pack my things and I was directed to go to the Comfort Inn.”

Individuals had about 10 hours to get out.

Connie Faillace, 82, said she is upset for some of the people she knows, including people who are in their 90s and had to leave.

“Really, it’s been a terrible experience, even if you can joke about it that it’s as if we’re homeless,” Faillace said.

Rivera said she doesn’t fault those who oversee the site. “Management’s done what it can do,” Rivera said.

But Elzeneiny said he is worried that there was no emergency plan, despite previous incidents, and until getting the letter Tuesday, so many uncertainties. “We see very little communication from them, I had to rely on the grapevine, which was unfortunate,” Elzeneiny said.

He also believes that counselors should be available to help cope with the trauma of the situation. “The panic level keeps rising as time goes by,” he said.

Faillace said that the town’s fire and police departments have shown care. “They have been tremendous. They’ve treated us with compassion and treated us like we’re human beings,” Faillace said.

Rivera just last summer moved into the first floor unit after being at the complex for five years. Rivera said she loves to cook and has been able to create a kitchenette in her hotel room, where she may have to stay longer than many of her peers

“Because of the extent of the damage, I’m told it will be a few months to fix my apartment,” Rivera said.

When she returns, she said has eyes on a top floor apartment, if vacant. “I’m hoping for some special consideration because I’m going to be displaced the longest,” Rivera said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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