Governor: Vermont Seeing Worst Flooding in a Century
MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont awoke Monday to the aftermath of the storm that was Hurricane Irene with some communities cut off, almost 50,000 customers without power, thousands more without full phone service, hundreds of roads closed and the loss of at least three historic covered bridges.
Gov. Peter Shumlin called it the worst flooding in the state in a century.
A body was recovered overnight from the Deerfield River. It is believed to be that of a woman who fell in while watching flooding in Wilmington, a Shumlin spokeswoman.
"We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont," Shumlin said Monday. "We have extraordinary infrastructure damage."
The exact scope of the damage was unclear Monday. Officials had been waiting for daylight Monday to begin assessing it.
Shumlin had planned to tour the state in a National Guard helicopter, but the choppers were reserved for emergency operations. Instead, he's planning to drive south, Allen said.
"We haven't seen flooding like this, certainly since the early part of the 1900s. The areas that got flooding area in really tough shape," Shumlin said.
Historically, a flood from 1927 is considered to be Vermont's greatest natural disaster.
At 3 a.m., state officials were told that Vermont would be classified as a federal disaster area, said Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen.
The water began to recede overnight, ending a threat to the Marshfield dam, upriver from Montpelier, and eliminating the possibility engineers would have to release water from the dam, which would have increased flood waters in the already swollen Winooski River.
"From what we're seeing this is one of the top weather-related disasters in Vermont's history," National Weather Service Hydrologist Greg Hanson said early Monday.
"We've heard reports of houses and cars washing away," Hanson said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed all those were empty."
Green Mountain Power warned late Sunday that Montpelier could be flooded twice, once in the initial storm and again if it became necessary to release water from the dam, about 20 miles up the Winooski River northeast of the capital.
Residents of 350 households as far downstream as East Montpelier were asked to leave Sunday evening as a precaution, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said.
But by Monday morning that threat had abated.
"Water levels have stabilized. If conditions continue like this we'll be fine, but we're continuing to monitor to see if anything changes," she said early Monday.
Parts of downtown Brattleboro and Bennington were under water Sunday after the storm passed. At least nine shelters were set up across the state, although it's unclear how many people spent the night in them.
The storm began with rain early Sunday, heaviest in the southern part of the state, moving slowing north as the day went on. By late afternoon, officials were reporting roads closed by flooding from Guilford on the Massachusetts line to Derby, which borders Quebec.
"If you follow the path of the storm there wasn't a single area of the state that was spared. It hit the south first, but then it worked its way north," Vermont Emergency Management spokesman Robert Stirewalt said early Monday.
A dramatic video posted on Facebook showed an 1870 covered bridge over the Williams River in the Bartonsville section of Rockingham being swept away by rushing water, then disappearing seconds later. In another, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.
The center of Wilmington, a ski resort town, was flooded by the East Branch of the Deerfield River but could not be reached because of washouts. Vermont National Guard members had to travel south of the state line and travel back north from Massachusetts, Shumlin said.
In Bennington, a team of firefighters had to be rescued after their boat tipped as they were pulling a man who was having a medical emergency from his home. The firefighters were OK, officials said; the man they were rescuing was airlifted to a hospital.