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Oxford Riverside Dwellings Evacuated

Fire chief says most people are leaving voluntarily; many are used to this.

Scott and Kathy Ames just completed months worth of basement and lawn repairs made necessary after an early March flood wiped out both at their home along the Housatonic River in Oxford.

Now the couple, who live near the Stevenson Dam with their three children ranging from 8 years to 8 months, are packing their valuables in a portable storage shed, bringing their boat ashore and heading to a family member's house more inland until Irene has moved out.

“We like this house most of the time,” said Kathy Ames, who has lived at  551 Roosevelt Drive (Route 34) for 11 years; her husband’s family has owned it since 1983. “When the weather is nice, it’s absolutely beautiful.”

But when it’s not, it’s a total nightmare.

The latest horror occured on March 6, when the Ames' backyard looked like a lake almost six feet deep. Water from the overflowing river flooded the family's basement, ruined their hot water heater and furnace, and wiped out their backyard; although the family has insurance, the Ames's have had to pay as much as $30,000 out of pocket to repair damage from some storms.

Still, Scott and Kathy Ames consider themselves lucky.

During the March flood, their baby, Lilly, was only 2 months old. The weather made the situation hectic, but the family got through without injury by taking precautions and evacuating early. That’s why they are going the same route this time.

“I’m not so much worried about the hurricane as I am about the potential for flooding,” Kathy Ames said. “I guess we’ll see.”

Most people along the river are taking the same precautions, said Oxford Fire Chief Scott Pelletier, who also serves as fire marshal and emergency management director.

Firefighters have been going door-to-door along Roosevelt Drive warning people of the potential dangers and making sure they're taking all necessary precautions, he said.

“Most people are self-evacuating,” he said, adding that cots and blankets are being set up at Oxford High School, the site of the emergency management shelter. And, he said, FirstLight, the power company that owns the Stevenson Dam, has taken the water level down about four feet in preparation for Irene's visit. 

“Right now, we’ve got everybody on standby waiting to see what will happen,” Pelletier said.

Some riverside residents don't seem too worried.

Tom Strong, who lives off Roosevelt Drive in an area the town refers to as “under the rock park,” said although his house is close to the water, he’s not evacuating because it is high off the ground and doesn't usually get too much damage. 

“Mostly all I get is a little wash out in the yard, so I just took in the patio furniture,” said a relaxed Strong, who has lived in the house with his wife and daughter, now 21, since 1992. “But we’ve also called grandma and told her to keep a room ready…just in case.”

Mary Beth Nelsen August 28, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Every time I hear a selfish person talk about "riding this out" in spite of an evacuation notice I think of the first responders who haven't got that choice but still have to risk their lives to save these selfish people. During Hurricane Gloria two firefighters in Milford died trying to save people who opted not to evacuate. I wish media would stop giving these people attention and interviews.
Robert T August 29, 2011 at 05:31 PM
It wouldn't be nearly as bad if FirstLight would actually run the river before storms, yet each and every time they open the dam a little, and then at the last moment they flood the entire valley because they don't want to lower Lake Zoar and upset the rich homes. They lowered the lake 4 feet, while raising the river to another record level height. They lower the water more during the maintenance periods twice a year then they did to prepare for storms. This time they went so far as to actually close the dam for hours overnight the night before the hurricane hit as if it was any other night: See graph: http://i.imgur.com/pOUQe.png And that 'action' stage', is only half a foot above what the normal river flow is, this river should have been running at 'flood stage' for 2 days prior, which doesn't really flood anyone. Flooding was never as bad as it's been since FirstLight took ownership of the Stevenson dam. Was the storm bad? Yes Did we not have days of notice? Yes Would anyone in their right mind hold back water the night before a hurricane..... would you?

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