From Waterbury to Wilmington, Vermonters Shocked by Irene's Destruction
BURLINGTON - Vermonters will need weeks to begin to recover from massive flooding from Tropical Storm Irene that killed at least three people and left a trail of devastation from St. Johnsbury to Bennington.
That sentiment is reverberating across Vermont, echoed by everyone from Gov. Peter Shumlin to shell-shocked homeowners victimized by the torrent.
"This is the most violent thing I've ever seen," said Scott Bradley, director of public safety in flood-ravaged Mendon, seeming to speak for the countless Vermonters who watched roads, houses, bridges and businesses wash away in Sunday's torrent.
In what is expected to be the state's worst natural disaster since the epic flood of 1927, thousands of buildings were destroyed or damaged. Hundreds of roads remain closed, and many of those will stay off-limits for days. Utilities struggled through washouts and water to begin piecing electrical lines and poles back together. Some homes might go without electricity for a week or more, utility officials said.
Up to 8.3 inches of rain, about the amount that normally falls over two months, fell in parts of Vermont in less than 24 hours. In hard-hit Waterbury, the Vermont State Office Complex was rendered unusable for several weeks because of the flood. More than 50 mentally ill patients at the Vermont State Hospital, in the complex, were moved to other facilities for an indefinite stay. Staff at the state Emergency Operations Center evacuated early Monday as waters rose.
Many people were staying in six Red Cross shelters across the state and in dozens of shelters in hard-hit towns.
President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Vermont as the disaster thrust the state into the national spotlight. The state appeared to be an afterthought as the national media geared up for the storm as it threatened New York last week, but by Monday, the Vermont flood dominated mainstream and social media.
CNN and The Weather Channel, among others, gave exhaustive coverage to the devastation in the Green Mountains; the New York Times put the story on its home page. Dozens of YouTube videos of the destruction popped up, and thousands of Vermont flood messages flickered back and forth across Twitter and Facebook.
Speaking after touring Vermont with Shumlin and others, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a public official since the late 1960s, said: "I've not seen anything that has shocked me so much."
By late Monday, three people had been confirmed dead in Vermont because of the flooding, and a fourth person was missing and presumed deceased.
In Wilmington, Ivano Taseva, 20, of the European country Macedonia died after the car she was in became trapped in Deerfield River floodwaters. As the water began to sweep the car away, Taseva, her boyfriend and two other men tried to escape, Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko said. The men were able to escape, but the current took Taseva away.
In Mendon, searchers found the body of Rutland Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Michael Garofano, 55. His son Mike, 24, was missing and "feared dead," according to state emergency management officials. The pair had gone to check on the Rutland water supply Sunday afternoon and were not heard from again.
In Ludlow, the body of a man in his 40s was found at about 11 a.m. in Lake Rescue. His identity was unknown, and the Vermont State Police and Ludlow Police Department were investigating what happened, said Mark Bosma of Vermont Emergency Management.
Parts of at least 12 Vermont towns were partly or wholly inaccessible Monday afternoon. Parts of all highways across the state except Interstates 89 and 91 closed at some point during the storm.
State transportation officials said more than 260 state and town roads remain closed Monday night and that it would be days or weeks before some are reopened. In Mendon, a half-mile stretch of U.S. 4 , the major central Vermont east-west thoroughfare, washed away.
Thirty-foot-deep chasms yawned where roads used to be.
The state was scrambling to find temporary spans to patch gaps left by the 35 bridges — including at least four historic covered bridges — that crumbled under the flash floods.
"Some will call for fixes that will take awhile," Shumlin said. "We're going to need a lot of temporary bridges."
The state's rail network also took a hit. The New England Central Railroad and all of the state-own railroads were shut down due to flood-related damage. Four rail bridges in the state were impassable and Amtrak service in Vermont has been suspended until further notice.
The Vermont National Guard had 251 soldiers helping with rescue and relief efforts around the state. That figure will increase to 350 today, Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow said Monday.
Goodrow also said the New Hampshire National Guard plans to loan several Black Hawk helicopters to its Vermont counterpart today to help in the recovery effort.
By late afternoon Monday, about 35,000 homes and businesses across Vermont remained without electricity. That was down from 50,000 in the morning.
Officials with Central Vermont Public Service, the state's largest power company, said road washouts, missing bridges and debris were preventing them from reaching some areas. The utility, which had more than 27,000 customers without power Monday afternoon, said it would be several days at least before power was restored fully.
Many buildings disappeared in the flood.
In Wardsboro, at least four houses washed away, and several others were undermined, said Warner Manzke, the town's assistant fire chief.
A roof was found on Vermont 100 in Wilmington, but nobody knows where it came from, Szarejko said.
The K-1 Lodge Superstar Pub, at the Killington Resort in Killington, was shoved off its foundation, resort officials said. The same fate befell Birke's Photography in Waitsfield and Brandon House of Pizza in Brandon.
Tropical Storm Irene raced away from Vermont into Canada early Monday. Flood recovery began under light winds and sunshine Monday. Aside from widely scattered light showers today and a few more scattered showers over the weekend, no precipitation is expected for the next week.
A potential new hurricane, to be named Katia, was forming in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean. That storm is expected to start approaching the East Coast in about 10 days.
Though forecasters aren't sure yet, early indications suggest Katia might swerve further east than Irene, sparing New England from further destruction as residents attempt to recover from the current catastrophe.
Contributing: Dan DAmbrosio, Mike Donoghue, Brent Hallenbeck, Terri Hallenbeck, Candace Page, Matt Ryan.