By ANDY CASTILLO
Recorder Staff (Greenfield, MA)
Friday, May 12, 2017
CONWAY — The sound of droning chainsaws echoed through Pumpkin Hollow Friday as volunteers from Team Rubicon, a veteran-run international disaster response organization, launched its three-day tornado cleanup mission “Operation Smashing Pumpkin.”
“We’ve been working with homeowners for a few weeks now to understand the work that needs to be done,” said Dana Braverman, regional administrator at the nonprofit organization, founded in 2010 in response to Haiti’s devastating earthquake.
Behind Braverman, about 20 volunteers removed branches and dislodged pieces of metal bent by the Feb. 25 tornado’s 80-to-110 mile-per-hour winds, working around a maple tree beside the historic United Congregational Church of Conway.
The aid organization’s mission is to “bridge the gap” between military and civilian life by helping communities stabilize in the wake of natural disasters, said former Marine Shawn Baker.
Since Haiti, the organization has grown from “eight to over 43,000 volunteers with close to 200 operations under its belt, including Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma,” a press release noted. Team Rubicon’s name was inspired by Julius Caesar’s famed crossing of the Rubicon River.
“This labor is invaluable because we just can’t afford it,” said 49 Whately Road Resident Grant Ingle, who’s house was “sand-blasted with brush” during the storm, which also blew branches onto his roof and car.
In the days following the tornado, public focus zoomed in on damaged houses and heart-stopping near-miss stories — overlooking hundreds of hazardously damaged and downed trees throughout Pumpkin Hollow that must be cleaned up, but aren’t covered by insurance.
To fill that need through coordinated long-term cleanup efforts, Ingle helped create “Conway Tornado Recovery,” a resident-led information and resource sharing initiative. He said cleanup will probably take years to complete.
Noting a $1,500-per-acre federal aid grant and a few state programs available to eligible residents, Ingle said homeowners are now piecing together a “patchwork of resources.” Those resources include Team Rubicon’s volunteer-driven mission, facilitated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Another potential resource for affected homeowners is the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, which is currently assessing damages. An announcement on the town’s website asks affected residents to contact Sheila Theodore at 617-626-1733, or Sheila.Theodore@State.MA.US, to report damages.
“The question is how to optimize them,” Ingle continued. “It’s now 11 weeks after the tornado. One of the biggest issues is cleanup. The town’s emergency response was great, this is the next phase.”
Looking ahead, Ingle said neighborhood residents intend to bring in heavy log-moving equipment and a wood chipper to permanently remove branches. Meanwhile, Team Rubicon volunteers will continue their efforts through Sunday.
“Operation Smashing Pumpkin” is put on with help from The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Operation BBQ, Hilltown Churches Food Pantry, and the Conway Inn, which provided food for the volunteers.
For more information on the local tornado recovery group email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Team Rubicon’s website can be found at www.teamrubiconusa.org.