Seventy-eight residents of a senior housing complex in Springfield remain displaced one week after flooding forced the evacuation of the Louis Whitcomb Building on Mineral Street. While most are staying with relatives or friends, 12 people are at the emergency shelter in the Edwin Huber Building on Main Street; both buildings are managed by the Springfield Housing Authority.
Last Friday afternoon, 1½ inches of rain fell on Springfield, causing a drainage basin at the bottom of Grove Street to fill. The steep hillside where three roads converge above the Connecticut River acts like funnel, with only a two-foot diameter culvert to send water underneath the road.
“The swale got plugged at the bottom,” said building manager Tom Morlock. “So the water overflowed and came down the other side of the street.”
A block of stone, a tree trunk and a hubcap blocked the culvert, sending the rushing water against the building, where it hit the doors to the electrical room hard enough to bend them.
The electrical room had four feet of water in it, and all the lights in the building went out.
“We were under an extreme drenching situation. With that kind of rain coming down, I don't know what could have been done to prevent it,” said Fire Chief Russell Thompson.
Thompson ordered the building evacuated. With no electricity, the elevators didn't work, and some residents picked their way down the darkened staircases using their cellphones for light. Two people had to be rescued from the stopped elevator.
“We're not evacuating a neighborhood, we're evacuating a building,” said Thompson. Some of the residents had physical or medical needs that require electricity to manage, such as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines. Although one resident with mobility challenges resisted moving at first, she was able to be carried down the stairs.
A few residents went temporarily to Springfield Hospital or to Genesis (the Springfield Health and Rehabilitation Center), depending on their needs.
“I can't speak highly enough of the Springfield Housing Authority,” said Thompson. “They turned 71 people needing shelter into 16 needing shelter, working with the families. Getting that taken care of and opening the shelter, instead of using Springfield High School, which is our designated emergency shelter, to use 80 Main Street. It's more like the environment the people were displaced from. They, the Red Cross, George Keeler [pastor of the Springfield Baptist Church], everybody came together and did a spectacular job.”
The evacuation began at 5 and everyone was out of the building by 8:20 p.m.
Morlock said he is “cautiously optimistic” that they can get people back into Louis Whitcomb next week. The mud and silt have been cleaned out of the electrical room. Four of the seven apartments on the bottom floor needed cleanup work, but from the second floor up all will be well once the electric goes back on.
“We're hoping to have most of the electrical work done late Friday or early Monday,” said Morlock. “Then we have to have the state inspect it. If everything goes well, we could have people back in the building by late Tuesday, early Wednesday.
“That's if everything goes well,” he said.
Volunteers are still needed to help at the emergency shelter. The Precision Valley Disaster group is assisting the Red Cross with round the clock staffing of the emergency shelter at the Huber Building. They have been asked to staff the shelter until Wednesday.
If you or someone you know might be available to help volunteer, please contact Kathy Mason at 885-3609.
-- GLYNIS HART