Flooding prompts Vt. evacuations, closures

Posted May 27, 2011, at 11:22 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A series of thunderstorms pelted Vermont with up to 5 inches of rain Thursday and Friday, overflowing rivers and streams, ripping roads into pebbly shreds and forcing about 200 people from their homes.

More trouble was on the way: A second round of heavy weather Friday night was expected to move through some of the same areas buffeted by the Thursday night storms, which lashed an area from Montpelier northeast to St. Johnsbury and left roads impassable, streets mired in mud and basements full of water.

A front that stalled over the region dumped 5.22 inches in Plainfield, 4.74 inches in St. Johnsbury and 3.89 in the state capital of Montpelier, where churning brown water from the Winooski River and a tributary streamed into the streets of downtown.

Hardest hit was an area northeast of Montpelier, along the Route 2 corridor, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Banacos, who called the amounts “pretty incredible.”

“In an area that is already oversaturated with water from the previous rains and snowmelt, there’s just no place for this water to go,” said Bruce Pollock, deputy chief response officer for the Vermont-New Hampshire Valley chapter of the American Red Cross, which took in about 175 people at makeshift shelters in Montpelier and Barre.

“Normally, the ground can absorb a certain amount of it and the streams can discharge it rather rapidly. But because of the oversaturation, the grounds just weren’t able to take care of it. So it just came up and ran rampant,” he said.

In Barre, where floodwaters ran several feet deep on Main Street early Friday, dozens of residents were evacuated by boats.

“I didn’t have time to be scared,” said Mickey Murphy, 63, of Berlin who was evacuated from her trailer park home just after 11 p.m. Thursday. “They just said ‘Get dressed and get out.’ And that’s what everybody did. Now, you think about it, you’re thinking what you’re going to go back to, or what you’re not going to go back to. And that’s a question right now.”

She was at the Barre Municipal Auditorium in Barre, where cots were set up on a gym floor for about 112 people.

No damage estimates were immediately available.

“It’s really devastating,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin. “There’s lots of road infrastructure damage, bridge damage, damage to buldings, lots of high water in basements.”

In Barre Town, 30-year-old Adam Cooley lent a friend his car Thursday night.

On Friday, he found the 2001 Subaru Legacy dangling off Muddy Brook Road, its rear wheels hanging over the washed-out edge of the road, the interior and engine compartment coated in mud.

“We were coming up here and then we stopped, saw all these people up here that had taken pictures, and we asked them how bad it was down here. They had a picture of this car. I was like ‘That looks like my car!’” he said.

He couldn’t reach the friend and didn’t know what happened to the car.

For many, the severity of the storms became clear with a knock at the door, with police or civilians going house to house to evacuate people.

“It looked like the river was right there on my porch,” said Darlene Colby, 47, of Montpelier.

She was woken up by police around 1 a.m. at her home along the North Branch, not far from downtown. She gathered a bag of belongings for herself and 25-year-old son and spent the rest of the night at a shelter set up at the National Life insurance headquarters on high ground at the edge of the city.

School in Montpelier and a number of other central Vermont communities was canceled for the day and state workers were given a delayed opening and portions of major roadways, including parts of U.S. Route 2, were closed because of water over the road.

The Vermont National Guard brought in 12 high-water vehicles — four each in Montpelier, Barre and St. Johnsbury — to help.

Montpelier officials asked parents to keep their children away from downtown, where merchants scurried to move their goods to higher floors or out in cars. Mayor Mary Hooper was spotted inside Vermont Trading Co.’s storefront window, helping owner Lori Hayes move her merchandise out of harm’s way as State Street filled up with water.

“What are you going to do? You’ve just got to go with it and deal with it,” said Andrew Brewer, owner of Onion River Sports, a store whose basement flooded.

His main concern: Separating out fuel oil that had spilled from a tank in the basement, so it wouldn’t end up in storm drains and the river.

Floodwaters swamped the city’s sewage treatment plant, causing raw sewage to flow directly into the Winooski River. It could be weeks before it’s working again, according to state Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, who warned people to avoid contact with the floodwaters.

Two people had to be rescued from vehicles trying to drive through water, and a swimmer had to be pulled from waters tainted by petroleum and sewage, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin.

“The most important thing is we haven’t had loss of life, and we don’t want loss of life,” said Shumlin.

At the Gary Home for the Aged in Montpelier, 12 residents had been evacuated at about 2 a.m. to an affiliated facility on higher ground. They expected to spend a second night there Friday, according to manager Joan Houghton.

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Associated Press reporters Dave Gram and Wilson Ring contributed to this report.

 

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