Editor's note: In the final piece of a two-part series, the Transcript shares the stories of several residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park who returned after Tropical Storm Irene hit.
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Cynthia Clermont-Rebello has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has had a heart attack, but the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene has topped them both.
"This entire year has been the most traumatizing of my life," Clermont-Rebello said recently.
While she has had to deal with getting her own life back in order after The Spruces Mobile Home Park flooded during Tropical Storm Irene, she has had the lives of the park's other 272 residents to worry about as president of The Spruces Tenants Association. Included on that list is her husband, David Rebello, who has leukemia.
"I really can't tell you how I have gotten through this. It has to have been by the grace of God. I know I don't have the strength inside myself to endure the pain of all this," she said.
Clermont-Rebello was able to return to her Champagne Avenue home in the weeks following the storm, but she knows there were many others who weren't as fortunate.
The hardest part of the whole experience has been to see the agony that the park's senior citizens went through, she said.
"You see these people 80 and 90 years old who have their entire lives torn away from them," she said. "This group of seniors had a voracious appetite for independence and weren't the kind of people who compromised.
Sisters Marion and Hazel Wilkin have lived in The Spruces for 32 years.
They moved there from North Adams in 1980, buying a brand new mobile home to put on their Bachand Avenue lot.
"We really didn't think about moving to Williamstown," Marion said last week. "We knew a few people who lived in the park, and they were happy being there, so we decided to give it a try."
The sisters were out of the park for about three weeks after Tropical Storm Irene hit.
"It was stressful, but we're getting along pretty well now," Marion said.
While the cabana attached to their house was damaged, their house remained intact and dry, she said.
"The water came up to the floor, but didn't get into it," Marion said.
Hazel added that she remembered feeling the rug, and then being surprised that it wasn't damp.
"We've been lucky, especially compared to a lot of the others," Hazel said.
The sisters live in one of the few houses left in the west end of The Spruces. The neighbors on either side of them have since moved on, and all around them are empty lots and houses in the process of being demolished.
"We miss our neighbors. They helped us a lot. We're not young anymore," Marion, 83, said.
Hazel, 91, said that the park is much quieter than it used to be.
"Before we had the recreation hall. There were a lot of activities held there, and we miss that a lot," Hazel said.
Helen and Francis Leavens had planned to spend the rest of their lives at The Spruces when they moved to the park about three years ago. While they're still living there after Tropical Storm Irene, the uncertainty about the park's future has put their retirement plans in limbo.
"There are a lot of ifs, and it will be two to three years down the road before many of those ifs are resolved," Helen said.
The biggest of those "ifs" is whether the park will close, she said.
"Most of the time, we try to block those thoughts and not let them consume us, but it's hard," she said.
All their equity is in their home, and they don't know what they would do if they had to move, she said.
"It's not realistic for us," Francis said. "For now we're here, and we're going to ride it out for as long as we can."
Since Irene, the community life of The Spruces is gone, Helen said.
"It's sad. You don't see the people anymore. There were always so many people out during the day, riding their bikes and walking around the park," she said.
They don't have the recreation hall or swimming pool anymore, and there are no activities going on like there used to be, she said.
"One thing we have noticed is that the residents who are left here are taking an interest in their yards. There are more people decorating their yards with lawn ornaments and flowers. I guess it's our way of saying we're still here," she said.