Maria and Jim won't ever forget Irene’s visit


There’s no way Maria or Jim Bartoshevich will forget Irene – that’s Tropical Storm Irene that hit Rhode Island with a vengeance a year ago Tuesday.

It was about 9 a.m. and Jim had just gone outside their home on Coverfield Avenue off West Shore Road to check on the storm’s progress. Trees and limbs were down throughout the neighborhood, but the winds had subsided, or it seemed. Then he looked at the trunk of the huge tulip tree in their front yard. It was leaning and some of the roots were exposed.

“It is going to go down,” he remembers thinking.

As soon as he stepped back inside the house, Jim suggested Maria get ready to leave the house. She went to get clothes out of the dryer in the laundry area beside the kitchen. He went the other way to the bathroom.

Barely 10 seconds after his warning, the tree, as if on cue, crashed. The trunk knifed through the roof and branches and debris filled the living room where they had been standing moments before.

Certainly Maria and Jim remember the events surrounding the moment the tree succumbed, but that’s not what stands out. It was what happened next.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget, we were just swamped by a lot of people,” said Maria from their rebuilt home Tuesday afternoon. Within minutes, people – many complete strangers – were at the gaping hole where the front door had been, inquiring if they were all right and how they might help. There were offers of food and clothing, even toys from a woman who thought they might have children.

Maria has children but they are grown and live out of state. Their “children” now are Bella and Jade, two Chihuahuas who escaped Irene’s wrath.

They were handed gift cards to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts from people they never saw. It made them feel that the world can be a warm and wonderful place.

The acts of kindness didn’t stop after the rest of Rhode Island had pretty much been restored to normal. In some cases, that took more than two weeks as electric crews and equipment from across the country assembled at the Knight Campus of CCRI before fanning out to restore power to more than 200,000 customers. In Warwick, where it seemed there wasn’t a street where wires or trees weren’t down, Department of Public Works crews used front-end loaders to haul tons of trees and branches to the city compost station.

Jim, Maria and their canine companions spent the first couple of nights in the “pet-friendly” Extended Stay America Hotel before the 10-by-60-foot trailer that became their home for seven months showed up.

Before the trailer arrived, Warwick Tree Service was on site, cutting up the massive trunk and lifting it with a crane. Television news crews captured the scene and it was picked up by one of the national networks. Maria and Jim, who saved a platter-sized slice of the trunk, set up camp in the side yard, erected a tent and started cooking simple meals on the gas grill. Neighbors and friends came by to watch the progress, bringing food and drink and lending their support and to just hang out.

All State Insurance adjusters were on the spot once the report reached the proper people. Nonetheless, putting everything back in place wouldn’t be a snap.

In addition to the tree damage, Maria, who has lived in the house for about 30 years, learned that the tile floors and insulation contained asbestos. They were told not to enter the house and crews went about vacuuming everything – even the light sockets, said Jim.

Did they ever think of selling and moving elsewhere?

“We know everyone in the neighborhood,” said Maria.

There were other reasons to stay, too.

Within the past six years, they installed a new boiler and a new roof. The roof was a goner, but they knew appliances, flooring, wiring and just about everything else would be installed under the new roof.

The irony was that they were already in the process of remodeling before the storm and had ordered carpeting from the Lowe’s in North Attleboro. When they learned Irene would be visiting, they put off the delivery, figuring it could be soiled.

After the storm, they called to tell the store what had happened.

“They were second to none,” Maria said, noting that they sent out a home designer at no charge and offered suggestions. “We became friends.”

Maria promises to throw a party for Lowe’s when the house is completed. They still plan to replace a couple of windows.

The difficult part, says Jim, was deciding what would work with what and how it would all come together.

Now that it’s done, Maria is looking forward to throwing one of her old time Christmas parties, when all the family gets together. That wasn’t possible with the trailer.

Today, the couple pays special attention to hurricane reports. Maria was on the computer Tuesday morning to watch Isaac’s progress and to remind friends what happened a year earlier.

The yard is more open than it has ever been and the nearest trees are in the distance.

“Needless to say, I don’t like trees,” said Jim.


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