Hurricane Irene off the coast of the United States, in a photo taken by NASA astronaut Ron Garan.
Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org contributed to this report.
Originally published in The Commons issue #116 (Wednesday, August 31, 2011).
BRATTLEBORO—The November flood of 1927. The March flood of 1936. The September hurricane and flood of 1938.
These historic weather events have the benchmarks for natural disasters in southern Vermont.
What happened in Windham County on Sunday is on par with all three, as torrential rains from Tropical Storm Irene caused major flooding and epic devastation.
Runoff from the 4-7 inches of rain that fell on the county between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon filled virtually every small stream and river to overflowing.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, accompanied by Vermont National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., visited Brattleboro on Monday afternoon to check the damage. It was part of a statewide assessment of flood damage.
“We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont,” Shumlin said Monday. “It’s just devastating — whole communities under water. We’re tough folks here in Vermont, but Irene really hit us hard.”
He was standing next to the Whetstone Brook when he said those words. The stream ran wild through West Brattleboro and Brattleboro Sunday, breaking sewer lines, damaging roadways and bridges and sending torrents of water into Flat, Frost and Williams streets.
Those streets were still covered with mud on Monday, as public works crews used bucket loaders and fire hoses to clean them.
But Brattleboro got off easy compared to other towns in Windham County.
Wilmington remained completely cut off on Tuesday, as Routes 9 and 100 are still closed due to road washouts. The downtown area suffered extensive water damage, and the town is under a boil-water order until at least Sept. 16, according to town officials.
All of the town’s critical infrastructure was heavily damaged, and the Vermont National Guard has been deployed. Twin Valley High School is open as an emergency shelter. Food has had to be airlifted there.
In the space of just 24 hours, Irene transformed Vermont.
It has took the lives of three Vermonters (a fourth is missing). Several hundred roadways have been damaged; 33 bridges have been severely damaged. More than a dozen downtowns have been scoured by rushing water.
Water and sewage-treatment facilities have failed. Hundreds of buildings, many of them historic structures, have been compromised.
Dozens of businesses, including restaurants, stores, hotels, offices and theaters, have been destroyed. Public safety buildings in many towns have been damaged.
Utilities say it could be weeks before power is restored in some areas because of the havoc wreaked on state and local roads.
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