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Irene Flooding Forces Evacuations In Western Mass.02:43


Although some people may have found tropical storm Irene’s punch to be weaker than they had expected, others say it was more than enough.

About midday Sunday, 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 where it could crest, that’s when we started moving people out," said Ed Mello, director of the Greater Westfield Medical Reserve Corps. "It came up really fast."

About 25 people were brought to Westfield's North Middle School, Mello said. Cindy Choquette, who lives in a first floor apartment with the Westfield River in the backyard, was one of those evacuated.

"(I) just got a change a of clothes and we had to leave," Choquette said.

Choquette, a nurse, got home from work just as police were asking people in her neighborhood to get out.

"I don’t know where to go but I know I don’t want to stay here all night and sleep in a school," she said.

Choquette sat in the school cafeteria for a few hours with her upstairs neighbor, Diane Oliveras, trying to decide what to do next.

"I think I'm a little anxious because they're not saying anything to us," Oliveras said. "If we can go back to our homes tonight, if not. 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," said Shelly Oleksak, who was part of a crowd of people peering over the Great River Bridge at the churning Westfield River.

Melanie Rufo, who has spent more than 30 years here, said she’s never seen the river quite like this.

"It looks like an ocean, the waves are absolutely ridiculous," Rufo said. "Oh my gosh, its just raging. I wouldn’t want to be caught in it, that's for sure."

Fortunately no one was caught in it.

Authorities delivered cots and meals to the evacuees at the North Middle School.

Even if people got to go home Sunday night, the impact of the storm may not be over. Officials said they will be keeping their eye on this river, as well as the Housatonic and the Connecticut Rivers in the coming days.


This program aired on August 29, 2011.

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