Conway tornado cleanup continues

  • The roof and front part of the Thomas home were destroyed by Saturday’s tornado in Conway in February. Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Workers pick up salvageable antiques from the wreckage of a barn owned by antiques dealers John and Jan Maggs in February, which was flattened during the tornado. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Pumpkin Hollow resident John Maggs surveys the footprint where his barn used to be. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Pumpkin Hollow resident Steven Thomas stands beside wood cut from fallen trees on his Whately Road property. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • 100 Whately Road as seen Friday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

Recorder Staff
Friday, May 19, 2017

CONWAY — Nearly three months after a tornado ripped through Pumpkin Hollow, damaging buildings along Whately Road, those affected are looking to the future.

“While most of the town is back to normal, some debris cleanup continues, and the hardest hit section of town, Pumpkin Hollow, has been slow to recover. Every day sees a bit more progress as these most affected residents move toward full recovery,” said Selectman John P. O’Rourke.

On Monday, the Selectboard OK’d a request from the Conway Fireman’s Auxillary and other private organizations to replant elm and possibly chestnut trees in Pumpkin Hollow, replacing the many mature trees that fell during the storm. Selectman Bob Armstrong noted “the town has pulled out all the stumps of locust trees that were cut down.”

Meanwhile, residents continue to work with insurance companies and literally pick up the pieces of their homes that remain strewn throughout the hollow.

“We still can’t occupy. No roof, no water, no electricity. It’s slow, but there’s some progress,” said Whately Road resident Steve Schneider. During the storm, “the chimney sheered off” and his roof blew into Tea at Two, an adjacent artisan shop Schneider owns with his wife, Eileen.

“It took a while to get the whole picture,” he continued. “We didn’t know for a while if we were going to be able to rebuild.”

“The lights flickered, then it hit,” said Eileen Schneider, recalling the Feb. 25 tornado. She remembered they had slept downstairs that night and didn’t realized the roof was gone until the next morning. Damage to their house “is mostly on the second floor; that’s completely gone at this point,” she said.

The couple later found their mailbox in Shelburne Falls, Steve Schneider said. The couple hopes to move back into the house and have the business reopened by fall. Until then, they’re staying with family elsewhere.

Moving forward

Across the street at 100 Whately Road, a house badly damaged by the storm, a few construction workers could recently be seen working on its foundation, rebuilding the entire front of the house.

“My wife and I are using this as a purging device,” said the house’s owner Steven Thomas, standing in the back yard. In the days following the storm, Thomas stayed in the back section, “1,200 square feet of livable space,” keeping a woodstove going to make sure pipes didn’t freeze.

Compared to neighbors “who can’t even live in their houses,” Thomas counts himself lucky. The front of the house was condemned, the back, a timber-framed addition he had built in recent years, wasn’t.

Moving forward, “I hope to use as many local tradespeople as possible,” Thomas continued, projecting “a flying guess” of four months until construction is completed.

In the tornado’s wake, O’Rourke said, “there has been a tremendous outpouring by volunteers to help the residents in Pumpkin Hollow.” Notably, Team Rubicon, a veteran-led national volunteer group, cleaned up trees along Whately Road this past weekend.

Thomas said a fundraising project for recovery efforts, which yielded more than $100,000 in unsolicited donations, will soon be distributed to eligible residents. A resident-led recovery group has also been set up to coordinate labor and can be reached at conway.tornado.recovery1@gmail.com.

The Maggs’ Barn

Just down the road, John Maggs surveyed the foundation where his historic colonial-era barn used to be — flattened to the ground by 80 to 110 mile per hour winds. Much of the inventory for an antiques business he owns with his wife, Jan, was destroyed with the barn.

“About half of our 17th-century English oak furniture was destroyed. We have great piles of splintered timbers and boards,” John Maggs said. “The loss of inventory was extensive.”

In the face of that loss, Pumpkin Hollow’s antiques dealers are keeping a positive outlook and looking to rebuild.

“Life goes on. We feel extremely fortunate that we’re alive. We could have been in the barn when it came down,” John Maggs said, noting, “We’ve got a lot of the mess cleaned up, and we’re waiting for a price on construction of a new building.”

The new structure will be “a three-bent classic English barn,” perpendicular to the old barn’s foundation, black in color, late-1700s’ style, unlike “anything the old barn was.”

Reach Andy Castillo at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263