LISA RATHKE (Associated Press)
ANDOVER, Va. (TodayNews) — Volunteers pulled out their snow shovels Wednesday to clear a few inches of mud after heavy rain flooded flooded communities across Vermont, trapping people in homes, closing roads and littering streets and businesses with trash.
Water drained from most of the streets in the state capital of Montpellier, where the Winooski River flooded basements and first floors, destroying goods and furniture in the picturesque city center. Other communities have also cleared from historic floods that were more destructive than Tropical Storm Irene in many places. Dozens of roads remained closed, and thousands of homes and businesses were damaged.
But as people are still being rescued, flooding is still blocking some roads, and new flash flood warnings have been issued in light of more rain, the crisis is far from over, according to state Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison.
“Vermonters, be on the lookout and play it safe,” she said.
Morrison said city search and rescue teams and water rescuers came to the rescue of at least 32 people and numerous animals Tuesday night in northern Vermont’s Lamoile County, resulting in more than 200 rescues and more than 100 evacuations since Sunday.
Volunteers helped flooded businesses in Montpellier, a city of 8,000, in droves, clearing mud, cleaning and taking damaged items outside. “We had so much enthusiasm for supporting downtown businesses that most businesses had to turn their backs on the people,” said volunteer organizer Peter Walk.
Similar scenes played out in nearby Barr and Bridgewater, where the Ottaukechee River overflowed its banks, and in Ludlow, where the Black River flooded several restaurants co-owned by chef Andrew Molen. He said Sam’s Steakhouse is likely closed permanently after the water level inside reached nearly 7 feet (more than 2 meters) high.
“The only thing that can probably be saved is the silverware, and even after being in this filth for so long, you washed everything, do you really want to put this on the table? What happened is quite intense,” Molen said.
Another of his restaurants, Mr. Darcy, had several feet of water inside, damaging the foundation. But Molen said he hasn’t focused on cleaning yet because the first priority was to make sure locals and first responders stay fed. His team cooked at one of the restaurants that is still open and used ATVs to deliver food to the local community center.
Gov. Phil Scott toured disaster areas with Dina Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose teams began air and ground damage assessments the day after President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency and authorized federal disaster relief .
The total cost of damage can be significant. Even before these floods, there were 12 confirmed weather/climate disasters in the United States this year with more than $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I think we all understand that we are now experiencing the worst natural disaster that has affected the state of Vermont since the (flood) of 1927,” said US Senator Bernie Sanders. “What we are looking at right now is thousands of homes and businesses that have been damaged, sometimes severely. We are looking at roads and bridges, some of which are broken and in need of major repairs.” The floods of 1927 claimed the lives of dozens of people and caused widespread destruction.
Scott said flood waters surpassed levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene, which killed six people in Vermont in August 2011, washed away homes from their foundations and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles (805 kilometers) of highways.
Atmospheric scientists say devastating floods are happening more frequently now because as the atmosphere warms, clouds carry more water, and rising global temperatures will only exacerbate the situation.
The Hudson River Valley in New York was also hit hard, along with cities in southwestern New Hampshire and western Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy saw from a bird’s eye view while flying a helicopter into the small town of Williamsburg on Wednesday, where roads were washed out and some people had to be rescued from their homes. Even after two days of water receding, the Connecticut River has retained a muddy brown hue, and farmland along the river remains saturated, she said.
Much of this water carried debris, including entire trees, boulders, and even vehicles south across Connecticut to Long Island Sound. Major waterways, including the Connecticut River, burst their banks and are expected to peak up to 6 feet (2 meters) above flood level on Wednesday, closing roads and waterfront parks in many cities.
By Wednesday afternoon, all rivers in Vermont had reached their crest and water levels had dropped, although at least one of them was 20 feet (6 meters) above normal, said Peter Banakos, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Thunderstorms, gusty winds and hail were forecast for Vermont Thursday and Friday, but Banakos said they would pass quickly enough that more flooding was unlikely.
The storm was credited with one death – a woman whose body was found after it was washed away at Fort Montgomery, New York.
About 12 Vermont communities, including the state capital, were warned about the water boil, but at least they could be reached again after they were stopped by the flood. The Northern New England American Red Cross supported shelters in Rutland, White River Junction and Barr, where 58 people were evacuated to the city auditorium on Wednesday morning, compared to more than 200 on Tuesday.
Many people passed by to recharge their phones and grab a bite to eat, said John Montes, regional emergency officer. Red Cross volunteers from across the northeast helped with disaster assessments and distributed cleaning kits to homeowners before the next rains.
According to co-owner Claire Benedict, the flood was a disaster for the 50-year-old Bear Pond Books store in Montpellier. The water, about 3 1/2 feet deep, ruined many books and tools. On Wednesday, staff and volunteers piled water-soaked books at the back and front doors.
“This morning the floor was completely littered with wet books,” she said as they cleaned up the mess. “It’s a big old mess.”
Ludlow City Manager Brendan McNamara said his city has also suffered catastrophic damage. The water treatment plant was out of order, the city’s main supermarket and driveway were closed, a Little League field and a new skate park were destroyed, and he said he couldn’t even begin to estimate how many homes and businesses were damaged.
“We really took the brunt of the storm,” McNamara said. But he said his city would recover. “Ludlow will be fine. People get together and take care of each other.”
Associated Press staffers include Cathy McCormack of Concord, New Hampshire; Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Mark Pratt, Michael Casey and Steve Leblanc in Boston.