Conway emergency manager praises collaborative response to tornado

  • Antiques are salvaged from J&J Maggs Antiques collapsed barn in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway from tornado. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Damaged United Congregational Church in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway from tornado. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Main Poland Road in Conway is open after Saturday's tornado touched down snapping trees off mid way up that didn't fall from their base. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Damaged buildings in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway from tornado. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Rows of trees destroyed by tornado in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Antiques are salvaged from J&J Maggs Antiques collapsed barn in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway from tornado. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • A variety of house hold items and roofing material litter the ravine behind the United Congregational Church from tornado in the Pumpkin Hollow section of Conway. February 28, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 2/28/2017 11:46:40 PM

CONWAY — School was back in session at the Grammar School as life reverted to a semblance of normal Tuesday, a few days after a category 1 tornado ripped through town.

“We had so many people involved — I don’t even know who they are,” said Conway’s Emergency Manager David Chichester, reflecting on the success of state and local collaboration.

Chichester was pulling out of the Town Hall’s parking lot after working since Saturday night, with little sleep and “running on adrenaline” to organize emergency efforts. “I’m just awed by the way the community came together,” he said.

“Considering the amount of damage we had, town departments, municipal agencies, came together in such a way that we got a lot of these issues taken care of,” said Selectman Bob Armstrong.

Soon after the storm struck, just after 7 p.m. Saturday, members of the town’s Fire Department quickly responded to assess damages and make sure no one was hurt. Within two hours, the town had declared a state of emergency, triggering a state response.

On Sunday, the Selectboard held an emergency meeting, assigning local resident Patricia Vinchesi as acting town administrator while current administrative aide Tom Hutcheson was on vacation.

Meanwhile, a staging area for mutual aid fire departments was set up at the Grammar School, where needed items like blankets and radios were provided by the regional Incident Management Assistance Team.

O’Rourke said volunteers were plentiful. From a Boy Scout troop offering to pick up fallen tree limbs, to other individuals who offered to help with chainsaws, baked cookies and donated food, Chichester said the outpouring of support “brings me to tears. I can’t even begin to detail it. I don’t have the words to say thanks.”

A GoFundMe page set up by the town for those affected by the storm garnered $10,741 donations as of 4 p.m. Tuesday. A description on the page states it was “set up to respond to the outpouring of people asking how they can help the church and the residents who were impacted by the storm.” The page can be found at bit.ly/2lZcUB6.

Local businesses have also stepped up, among them Pure Yoga and Wellness, which is putting on a donation-based yoga event at the library Sunday morning.

As for collaboration, Selectboard Chairman John P. O’Rourke noted the speed at which Conway has recovered from having 33 roads closed by fallen limbs and no power. He said, “it was such a mess down there, and here we are, it’s only Tuesday.”

State, local and private agencies, he said, including the Mass. Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the Department of Transportation and the utility company, Eversource, were instrumental in the response’s success, providing resources and expertise to mitigate the situation.

“The state agencies were a model of how to do this — well trained,” O’Rourke said. “They knew what to do, but still highly respectful of Conway’s leadership. They let (Fire Chief) Bob Baker make all the decisions.

“We had 90 percent of the town without power (around 7 p.m.), and by midnight, it was on — amazing,”

Expenses

Even with state agencies helping out, the town has spent a lot of money on additional staffing needs, expendable resources like fuel, and food for emergency workers.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, who visited Whately Road to survey damages with other state officials Monday, said the state is going to provide financial assistance if needed.

Kulik explained on Tuesday, “the town is keeping careful tabs on costs incurred since Saturday night in getting the town back to normal.” Kulik said these include future, currently unknown costs, such as road damage.

“It’s too soon to know, much of the damage I saw yesterday on the tour was to private property, and hopefully people have insurance for that — I’m told most of the properties were insured, if not all.”

“It’ll be a matter of assessing any long-term damages to roadways, any infrastructure,” Kulik said. “Everyone has been so focused on things like getting power back, roads open. It’s going to take a little bit of time to find if there are other costs outside of Conway’s means.”

As it stands now, the state hasn’t carved out any money for the town. Kulik said based on preliminary assessment, the town probably won’t receive federal funds.

Chichester said, in regards to costs, the town is currently working on paperwork. He also said a town-owned salt storage facility, damaged by the storm, is insured, but the salt will need to be moved.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263


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