Editor's note: In the first of a two-part series, the Transcript takes a look at the experiences of several people who were residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park when Tropical Storm Irene hit, but who did not return to live at the park afterward. On Wednesday, we hear from residents who returned to the park after the storm.
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Aug. 28, 2011, was the second time Wayne Sr. and Bonnie Andrews lost everything.
The former Spruces Mobile Home Park residents were living in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew struck the state on Aug. 24, 1992.
"It was like reliving it again," Bonnie Andrews said last week of when Tropical Storm Irene flooded the park, destroying their Bachand Avenue home. "Most everything we went through with Irene, we had experienced with Andrew."
After Hurricane Andrew, the couple rebuilt, and in total, spent 20 years living in Florida before moving to The Spruces in 2008.
"We were getting older and decided we wanted to be near family," Andrews said.
The past year has been rough for her and her husband, as they try to rebuild their lives for a second time, she said.
"If it hadn't been for my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and her fiancé, I would not have been able to get through this," she said.
One way Andrews has coped with the upheaval and uncertainly is to help Higher Ground, a local nonprofit formed to help residents displaced by Irene, keep track
"If I see somebody I know from the park who we have lost contact with, I get their address and give it to Robin [Lenz]," Andrews said.
Andrews and her husband have since moved into Wheel Estates, a mobile home park in North Adams, but they miss their old home, their friends from The Spruces, and the park's community.
"There are four or five of us from The Spruces up here at Wheel Estates, but the park as a whole is still a different generation," Andrews said.
Given the opportunity, she would like to move back to The Spruces, either at its current location, or if the community is rebuilt somewhere else in town, she said.
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In the weeks following Tropical Storm Irene, Ruth Witherell remembers being angry at her husband.
The couple had just had their lives turned upside down, loosing their Nutmeg Lane home and many of their possessions to floodwaters caused by the storm.
"I just couldn't fathom that this was happening to me," Witherell said last week. "I was so mad at Jim even though he wasn't there. I was mad that he wasn't there to help get me through it."
James "Jim" Witherell had died in July 2009.
Ruth Witherell moved into Lake Onoto Village, a mobile home park in Pittsfield, in the fall, but it wasn't the same as The Spruces, she said.
"I'm here, but I'd like to be back at The Spruces," she said. "I miss the community and my friends."
Coping with everyday life has been difficult, and she has cried a lot since the storm, she said.
She has also been doing a lot of traveling between Pittsfield and Williamstown to visit with friends and attend the White Oaks Congregational Church on Sundays, she said.
"A lot of people from The Spruces belong to the church. All winter I drove up there to attend the services and have coffee afterward. It has been a way to stay in touch with friends and former neighbors," she said.
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For the seven years Arthur Smith lived in The Spruces, he would ride his bicycle 10 miles each day around the park. He had clocked 7,760 miles on the one-speed bike before it drowned in Tropical Storm Irene.
"The only thing I lost on the bike was the speedometer. I eventually bought a new one and set it to 7,760 miles," he said.
Smith, 83, still rides his bike around The Spruces, but only when he visits the park. He and his wife, Mary, now live on Union Street in North Adams.
"We had to start from scratch. We knew we couldn't go back, and the only other choice was to relocate," Smith, who lived on Riverside Drive, said last week.
With the $30,000 he received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and money he had in his savings account, he bought a two-family house in October 2011 and went to work having it fixed up, he said.
"The house was in terrible shape. It had been vacant for four years, and had been vandalized. We've done a lot of work on it, and I think it looks very presentable," he said.
While Arthur and his wife live downstairs, his sister, Patricia, who was also a resident of The Spruces, lives in the upstairs apartment.
Smith said that a year later, he is still cleaning mud off of furniture and appliances that were inside his home at the time of the flood. He also lost about one-fourth of his collection of 4,000 vinyl records.
"I've done a lot of worrying over the past year," he said. "The uncertainty you feel after something like this of not knowing where to go, it's a big thing that a lot of people don't realize."
To reach Meghan Foley, email