By Lisa Rathke
Floodwaters receded in Vermont cities and towns pummelled by a storm that delivered two months of rain in two days, allowing officials to focus on recovering from a disaster that trapped residents in homes, closed roadways and choked streets and businesses with mud and debris.
In the capital city of Montpelier, where streets were flooded Tuesday by the swollen Winooski River, officials said that water levels at a dam just upstream appeared to be stable.
“It looks like it won’t breach. That is good. That is one less thing we have to have on our front burner,” Montpelier town manager Bill Fraser said.
Fraser said the dam remains a lingering concern but with the water receding the city was shifting to recovery mode. Public works employees were expected out Wednesday to start removing mud and debris downtown and building inspections will start as businesses begin cleaning up their properties.
The slow-moving storm reached New England after hitting parts of New York and Connecticut on Sunday. Some communities received between 18 and 23 centimetres of rain. Towns in southwest New Hampshire had heavy flooding and road washouts, and the Connecticut River was expected to crest above flood stage Wednesday in Hartford and towns to the south.
In Vermont’s capital, brown water from the Winooski had obscured vehicles and all but the tops of parking meters along picturesque streets lined with brick storefronts whose basements and lower floors were flooded. Some residents of the city of 8,000 slogged their way through waist-high water Tuesday; others canoed and kayaked along main streets to survey the scene.
Bryan Pfeiffer canoed around downtown to check out the damage and was appalled by what he saw. The basement of every building – including the one where he works – and the lower levels of most were inundated. Even the city’s fire station was flooded.
“It’s really troubling when your fire station is under water,” Pfeiffer said.
Similar scenes played out in neighbouring Barre and in Bridgewater, where the Ottauquechee River spilled its banks.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said floodwaters surpassed levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene. Irene killed six people in Vermont in August 2011, washing homes off their foundations and damaging or destroying more than 200 bridges and 805 kilometres of highway.
The flooding has already caused tens of millions of dollars in damage throughout the state. There have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the flooding in Vermont, where swift-water rescue teams aided by National Guard helicopter crews performed more than 100 rescues, Vermont Emergency Management said Tuesday.
One of the worst-hit places was New York’s Hudson Valley, where a woman identified by police as Pamela Nugent, 43, died as she tried to escape her flooded home with her dog in the hamlet of Fort Montgomery.
Atmospheric scientists say destructive flooding events happen more frequently as storms form in a warmer atmosphere, and the planet’s rising temperatures will only make it worse.
In Vermont, more rain was forecast Thursday and Friday, but Peter Banacos, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the state will be spared any further torrential downpours.
Much of the focus turned to reopening roadways, checking on isolated homeowners and cleaning out mud and debris from water-logged businesses.
“We sustained catastrophic damage. We just really took the brunt of the storm,” Ludlow Municipal Manager Brendan McNamara said as he assessed the flood’s impact around the town of 1,500 people.
Among the losses was the town’s water treatment plant. Its main supermarket remained closed. The main roadway through town had yet to be fully reopened and McNamara couldn’t begin to estimate how many houses had been damaged. The town’s Little League field and a new skate park were destroyed, and scores of businesses were damaged.
“Thankfully we got through it with no loss of life,” McNamara said. “Ludlow will be fine. People are coming together and taking care of each other.”
Colleen Dooley returned to her condominium complex in Ludlow on Tuesday to find the grounds covered in silt and mud and the pool filled with muddy river water.
“I don’t know when we’ll move back, but it will certainly be awhile,” said Dooley, a retired teacher.
President Joe Biden, attending the annual NATO summit in Lithuania, declared an emergency for Vermont and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance.
FEMA sent a team to Vermont, along with emergency communications equipment, and was prepared to keep shelters supplied if the state requests it. The agency also monitored flooding in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, regional spokesperson Dennis Pinkham said.
Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Mark Pratt, Michael Casey and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed.
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