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Spruces Residents Left Longing For Home
By Phyllis McGuire, Special to iBerkshires
11:00AM / Friday, September 09, 2011
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Water was 5 feet deep in the mobile home park on Aug. 29 when residents were evacuated.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Claire Roy and Bernice Rooney expected their evacuation adventure to last an evening at most.

They did not think that nearly two weeks after Tropical Storm Irene sent the Hoosic River pouring into the Spruces Mobile Home Park they would not have returned home.
 
"The bus picked us up at a quarter to 7 Sunday morning and took us to the [Williamstown Elementary] school," said Rooney, 93, of Emerald Lane, in an interview nearly a week after Irene had unleashed her fury on the Northeast. "I didn't take much with me — just an extra pair of slacks, a blouse, a sweater, a raincoat and a pocketbook."

Roy, 83, of Nutmeg Lane also took a few pieces of clothing.
 
In the 10 years Rooney has lived in the Spruces, she has been evacuated three times. "The other two times were mild," she said. "In 2005, we stayed overnight at the school."
 
Rooney and Roy have known each other since 1952 when they were nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital.  And in their ordeal as displaced residents, they teamed up, staying together wherever they went, including deciding to stay at the Howard Johnson's Motel down the road. 

"Claire thought we should be close to the Spruces," Rooney said.
 
And both women have displayed great faith as they cope with being virtually homeless.
 
"I take one day at a time and leave the rest to the Big Boss upstairs," Roy said. Rooney, who has health issues and uses a walker, is keeping to her daily habit of watching a telecast of Mass. 
 
The first day, displaced residents were allowed to go back to the Spruces to fetch personal belongings; they were escorted to their dwellings by police officers, firefighters, town officials and the management  of the Spruces.
 
"Everyone is fantastic, so nice and so helpful; policemen are supermen," said Roy. As for the condition of her home: "As  I swished on the carpet, I thought 'This isn't as bad as I thought it would be.' The TV and furniture were still in place."

Her 2008 Honda, however, "has gone to heaven," she said. "I was stupid. I should not have left it behind Sunday."
 
Rooney discovered as she drew near to her home that the wood platform and steps leading to her front door had toppled. Her escort picked them up and put them back where they belonged so Rooney could enter her home.
 
"I was a little hesitant opening the door," she said. "The carpet splashed as I walked on it and the furniture was wet. When I picked up a pillow from the floor in my bedroom, water poured from it." 
 
Roy said she doesn't cry over lost objects, only human beings. "Now, I don't know whether I am numb or just accepting," she said.
 
Objects of sentimental value that Rooney is eager to have safely in her possession once more, include photos of her parents, family heirlooms and mementos from trips she has made over the years.
 
The second time the women went back to their homes, Roy cleaned out her refrigerator. "I had just bought (before Hurricane Irene) Omaha steaks and Haagen-Daz ice cream and now it's gone," she said. Clothes that are no longer wearable were targeted by Rooney for the rubbish pile. "I didn't want to do it, but I had to," she said.
 
Neither Roy nor Rooney intend to reside in the Spruces again. "I couldn't go through this again," said Rooney.
 
Roy, a native of North Adams who moved to the Spruces in 1975, has already looked at an apartment in Franklin Court in the city.
 
Because Rooney wants to stay in Williamstown, where she has lived since she was 3, she went to the Disaster Assistance Center to gather information about available living quarters in town. "I can't afford to stay in a motel any longer," she said.
 
Robert Tanguay, 71, a displaced resident staying at the Redwood Motel in North Adams since Sunday, Aug. 28, is concerned about his very modest savings being depleted.
 
"I am paid up at the motel for a few more days, but if I have to stay longer, I won't be able to pay my rent at the Spruces," he said, as he sat in a chair outside his room, a cane beside him. 
 
Tanguay has lived at the Spruces for 11 years and has been through floods before,  he said. "I was still in my trailer at 1 o'clock Sunday afternoon. Then  I saw the fire chief, and asked him if any water was coming into the park. He told me it had just come over the wall; I looked and saw water in the street below mine."
 
A half hour later, he knew he had no choice other than to leave. "I took what I could, and pulled the main fuse before I left," he said. 
 
What he forgot and should not be without was his supply of insulin. The next morning, he did not feel well and he knew why. "I drove to the Spruces to get my insulin," Tanguay said. "The fire chief was not happy about it. He said 'You're not supposed to be here.'"
 
Tanguay lives on a fixed income, and has been eating at McDonald's to stretch his dollars. "You can get chicken and a beverage for under $4," he said.
 
Roy and Rooney have been taking their main meal at restaurants. "A good friend of mine has been treating me as well as Bernice to dinner," said Roy. "Everyone is taking care of us," Rooney chimed in. 
 
One day in a restaurant, the three women had eaten their meal and were waiting for the check when the waitress said, "You don't have to pay."
 
As it turned out, a couple in the restaurant who were bringing their son to Williams College found out that the women were from the Spruces and paid for their dinner. 
 
"They weren't even from Williamstown," Roy said. "Disaster brings out man's goodness." 
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