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Brattleboro Public Works

Huge chunks of ice line the banks of Whetstone Brook after an ice jam was broken up on Jan. 25 in West Brattleboro.


Floods force 50 people to safety

In West Brattleboro, ice jams, rain, and warmth cause Whetstone Brook to surge

WEST BRATTLEBORO—Warm temperatures, heavy rain, and floating ice contributed to localized flooding along the Whetstone Brook in West Brattleboro on Jan. 24.

Emergency services evacuated more than 50 people from the Mountain Home and Glen Park mobile home parks and Melrose Terrace.

Brattleboro’s Department of Public Works oversaw the demolition of two ice jams on Whetstone Brook. There were no reported injuries.

Fire Chief Michael Bucossi received the emergency call at approximately 12:49 p.m. on Jan. 24.

According to Bucossi, an ice jam approximately 200 yards long had dammed the Whetstone Brook near Village Drive, and water was flowing into Mountain Home Park.

Responders evacuated 11 homes along Village and Edgewood drives.

Bucossi said responders worried that if the jam suddenly released, it could send a torrent of water downstream, so homes on Glen Street and in Melrose Terrace were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done with West Brattleboro yet.

Second blockage

Bucossi wrote in a news release that “at approximately 2:30 p.m. a second ice jam formed just upstream from the first, this one behind Brookwood Drive.”

“Approximately eight homes were evacuated as water flooded this area,” he said.

Bucossi said most people had left their homes in Mountain Home Park before responders arrived. A few, however, needed help, so firefighters used a bucket loader to transport people through the floodwaters.

The initial evacuation count was 50 people, Bucossi said. Later counts, however, put the number closer to 75.

Bucossi noted that a short-term shelter opened at the Gibson-Aiken Center. Town employees and members of the American Red Cross staffed the shelter.

Bucossi said 15 evacuees from Melrose Terrace and Glen Street used the shelter. Family and friends took in the majority of evacuees.

“Several pets were also removed from the flooded areas and went with their owners,” Bucossi said.

While local businesses in West Brattleboro didn’t report any damage, the flood waters did slow travel on Route 9.

Water filled parking lots in West Brattleboro. The Redemption Center on Route 9 closed for the day due to the situation, according to Bucossi.

Residents on Melrose Terrace and Glen Street were given the all-clear at 7:30 p.m. The shelter at the Gibson Aiken Center closed by 9 p.m., Bucossi said.

Bucossi said that with evening, temperatures dropped, and that helped stabilize the ice jam.

Still, evacuations on Village, Edgewood, and Brookwood Drives remained in effect throughout Thursday night because of high water.

It was all part of a busy Thursday night for the fire department.

Multiple calls

While some members of the department responded to the flooding, others were called to a Dummerston house fire. Members of the BFD swift water rescue team traveled to Vernon to remove residents trapped by ice and flood waters around four houses.

Bucossi reminded community members that “when we ask you to evacuate, it’s for your safety.”

At approximately 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, contractors broke the jams and the flood waters receded.

According to Director of Public Works Steve Barrett, the first jam formed at a bridge leading into the park located east towards town close to Leader Home Center.

The town contacted the state before breaking up the ice jams. Barrett said whenever working in streams or rivers, the DPW collaborates with state river engineers and Agency of Transportation staff.

Once they received the go-ahead from the state, DPW hired two excavators. Staff with Renaud Brothers of Vernon and Bellco Construction Group of Brattleboro cleared the ice.

The wild swings in temperature played a role in creating the ice jams.

After several days of sub-zero weather, temperatures rose into the upper 40s on Jan. 24 as nearly 2 inches of rain fell onto an ice-covered watershed. Warm weather and heavy rain broke up the thick ice covering Whetstone Brook and then sent the ice chunks hurtling downstream.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #495 (Wednesday, January 30, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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