THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Western Mass.

Brook overflows, washes away campsites

Everyone had fled scene earlier

Walker Island Campground in Chester had been evacuated on Saturday, just hours before the flooding yesterday morning. Walker Island Campground in Chester had been evacuated on Saturday, just hours before the flooding yesterday morning. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Dan Adams
Globe Correspondent / August 29, 2011

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CHESTER - A campground in this Western Massachusetts community was devastated yesterday morning when a nearby brook overflowed its banks and washed away entire campsites, vehicles, refrigerators, and propane tanks.

Town officials said no one was injured in the flood that destroyed the Walker Island Campground, which was evacuated Saturday in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.

Yesterday afternoon, torrents of water continued to pour through the site where campers and mobile homes had been knocked askew, and were left surrounded by the fast-moving water.

Residents of the campground stood nearby, looking shocked and upset. One of them, Anne Carmen, said she was among the lucky.

“I have a waterfront lot,’’ she said. “They [the campground owners] called yesterday and told me to leave. They moved my camper way up the hill, there.’’

Though her camper survived intact, Carmen said she suffered damage to her lot, including a concrete patio that was washed away by the swollen Walker Brook.

Carmen said she planned to return to the site when the water receded.

Eugene Bishop, chairman of Chester’s Board of Selectmen, surveyed the damage yesterday at the Route 20 bridge that crosses the brook near its junction with the Westfield River, which also flooded.

He shook his head at piles of insulation, splintered wood, and other debris from the wrecked campground that accumulated around the bridge.

“We had refrigerators coming down, propane tanks banging up against the bridge, trying to get through. They finally did get through when the water went down,’’ Bishop said. “I figure they’re somewhere in the Connecticut River by now.’’

Bishop said town officials had feared the flooding might be even more severe. An earthen dam in nearby Becket had a small breach and was in danger of failing. The dam held, he said, but the brook was so engorged by the heavy rainfall that it brought destruction anyway.

Though the campground was already empty, Bishop said State Police troopers had just minutes to warn residents near the bridge on Route 20 to evacuate, as they were also in the path of the water.

“Everyone was panicking,’’ he said, describing the early-morning scene in his normally quiet town.

Ultimately, the water did overrun the bridge, although it was never deeper than four or five inches on the span, Bishop said.

Bishop’s wife, Susan, said that the two had rushed to unlock the Town Hall so it could be used as temporary shelter for residents of the campground.

“We were very nervous for a while,’’ Susan Bishop said. “But nobody was hurt, which is so, so important.’’

Flooding also occurred further down the Westfield River, including in the town of Westfield. There, river water spread in waves toward Route 20.

As the water rose rapidly, Westfield police officers blocked the road with their cruisers and shouted at drivers to go home.

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com.