Sunday, August 26, 2012

Displacement Can Happen Anywhere -- Even In Williamstown

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Last August Tropical Storm Irene hit the Northern Berkshires with almost 48 hours of non-stop torrential rain that took out not only the power but entire roads and flooded the Spruces Mobile Home Park,  a retirement community conveniently located in Williamstown, MA within walking distance to stores and a reduced-price bus ride away from free museums, theatre and many activities on the Williams College campus. All of the 226 homes were ruled conditionally uninhabitable due to wet electrical systems, flooding and spilled petroleum products coming from the overflowing Hoosic River. Most of the residents stayed with family and friends while local and state health officials inspected each home. Residents whose homes were subsequently certified habitable returned. But unfortunately most of the homes -- about 160 of them --  were ruled uninhabitable and could not be reoccupied. Because the community sits on a flood plain, residents did not have insurance and FEMA was slow to step in. 

Unlike Katrina-devastated New Orleans no one died but many seniors who had called the Spruces home for more than a decade had to find someplace else to live. Some moved to other neighborhoods in Williamstown, others to nearby North Adams and Pittsfield, but no official kept track of where everyone went. Those who came back were met with a shell of a community --  abandoned and wrecked trailers, empty lots, and the smell of sewer and petroleum. Now the smell is gone but evidence of the wreckage is not. I spoke to one resident about two weeks ago when I took these photographs who told me that his trailer is the only one inhabited on his block. Some of the others have been demolished but most sit empty and covered with mold. I didn't have the heart to ask him about rats.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

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