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‘Team effort’ brings town back from freak storm

Date: 11/21/2011

Nov. 21, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Board of Selectmen met with both safety department chiefs as well as Town Accountant Thomas Caliento at its Nov. 14 meeting to discuss the town’s response to the freak Oct. 29 Nor’easter that left thousands without power.

Police Chief Douglas Mellis told the board that he was pleased overall with his department’s response in what were difficult conditions.

“It was a team effort by everybody,” he said. “We have work to do to address some weaknesses we have, but we took positive steps.”

Mellis said the town’s ability to run an emergency shelter was markedly improved compared to the June 1 tornado that saw the town lose power for an extended period of time. He said that while the town’s senior citizens were most vulnerable and in need of the shelter, a great many younger residents also took advantage of it, if only to charge their electronic devices.

Information Technology Director Ryan Quimby provided 60 power strips, which Mellis said even youth were using to make sure their cellular devices were charged.

“Thousands of relationships were saved because of that,” Selectman Jack Villamaino interjected jokingly.

Board of Selectmen Chair James Driscoll concurred with Mellis’ assessment of the shelter’s effectiveness and pointed out that the shelter served residents of surrounding communities who were in need as well.

“The reality is the services we provided were nearly flawless,” he said. “The president of National Grid said we should write a book because she’s never seen a town come together the way we did.

“This is why we live in East Longmeadow. We strapped on a helmet and jumped right in to help those that needed help,” he continued.

Fire Chief Richard Brady credited the town’s experience with earlier weather events, such as the tornado, with the town’s ability to respond so quickly.

“The unfortunate tornado really taught us and this time we were much more organized and well prepared,” he said. “If we had this kind of storm in June, I don’t think we’d have been nearly as prepared.”

Caliento told the Selectmen it would be a few more weeks and up to a month for the town to have an idea of how much clean up from the storm would cost the town.

He added that the town recently set up a separate fund for all costs related to the storm.

“All costs relating to the storm will be received and kept separate from the general fund,” Caliento said. “We are going to start to hammer out the cost of the contracts for the clean-up soon.”

He added that the town should not expect to see any reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) before the budget process for fiscal year 2013 is finished.

“Most likely we may not get MEMA and FEMA money this fiscal year,” he said. “In our minds, we should plan on having to raise the money through next [fiscal] year’s taxes, then make it up with the MEMA and FEMA money.”

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