Rivers in western Massachusetts continued receding Wednesday, exposing the extent of damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, while tens of thousands of homes and businesses in eastern Massachusetts remained without power three days after the storm ripped through the state.
Irene was like two separate storms in Massachusetts, said Scott MacLeod, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency. Heavy rains turned rivers into raging torrents, washing out roads and isolating small rural communities in the western portion of the state. High winds in the east knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, about 110,000 of whom remained blacked out early Wednesday evening.
"The utility companies have crews coming from as far away as Wisconsin and Texas, so certainly they're doing the best they can to bring the resources to bear on the problem, but it's just going to take some time," MacLeod said.
The loss of power forced some towns to delay the opening of the school year.
The cost of the storm is now being tallied. MacLeod says 17 damage assessment teams are working statewide — the first step toward requesting financial help from the federal government.
"I would certainly hope that based on some of the preliminary information we've seen that there may be some federal assistance, but it's too soon to tell at this point," he said.
The good news is that the Connecticut River in its tributaries that spilled their banks and flooded roads and communities have crested and the waters are receding. "Flooding does not appear to be a danger at this point," he said.
Some small communities that were isolated, like most of the small town Franklin County town of Hawley with about 300 residents, are now accessible again.
But dozens of roads remain impassable or closed, according to the state Transportation Department, including some major arteries.
The southbound lanes of Interstate 91 in Deerfield remain closed for traffic because of questions about the integrity of a bridge that may have suffered damage from fast-moving waters. Divers were scheduled to go in the water on Wednesday to conduct an inspection of the bridge's piers, but the waters were still too dangerous, said department spokesman Michael Verseckes. They are now scheduled to check Thursday.
A six-mile stretch of Route 2 in the Florida-Savoy-Charlemont area also remains closed because of rockslides and erosion around bridges, he said.
Five shelters remained open Wednesday, but were serving only about a dozen people displaced from their homes, MacLeod said.
With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom
This article was originally published on August 31, 2011.
This program aired on August 31, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.