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Washouts from flooding leave much of West River Valley isolated

TOWNSHEND—Residents of the West River Valley got their clocks cleaned by Tropical Storm Irene, but some towns were more damaged than others.

Wardsboro, barely accessible, had Vermont National Guard helicopters airlift food and supplies on Tuesday afternoon to the elementary school’s ball field.

By comparison, most of Townshend’s roads were open to trucks and four-wheel-drive vehicles by Monday night, according to David Dezendorf, chief of the town’s emergency management department.

Townshend Fire Chief Douglas Winot said most of the town’s back roads were flooded out, but were opened to one-lane traffic by Tuesday morning. Simpson Brook Road remained impassable, he said.

East Hill Road, not a major thoroughfare but one route nonetheless for residents up the hill to get home, was wiped out from about a fourth of a mile above the Harmonyville entrance.

Rushing water ripped a long and deep gully across the road and down the hill. Leading up to the gully about 30 feet of good-sized rocks cover what was the road and the land at its edges.

The bridge on Route 30 just below the Harmonyville Store was open, but a sharp gully about 30 feet long and 8 feet deep was cut in a curved shape from the land on the store side of the bridge. Crews were arriving to assess that damage at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Stan Holt, who lives high up on East Hill Road, said his family was isolated for about 12 hours but can now travel down the middle road of East Hill that begins opposite Grace Cottage Hospital on Route 35.

He said his road is periodically undermined by beaver dams, and just as periodically repaired.

He remembers similar circumstances in 1973. “I’m holding a picture here of my [then)] 16-year-old son standing deep in that gully,”Holt said. “The same son, who now lives in Toronto, is visiting and he was at the new gully yesterday.”

He thinks maybe this time around they won’t reopen this part of the road. “I mean, it’s closed in the winter anyway,” he said. “And last time, I remember they put in a whole bunch of rocks and did a lot of work.”

Dezendorf said he hadn’t seen that road but he was sure road crews had. He said the reason there were no red cones on the road was because the town had run out of red cones.

Townshend was the only West River Valley town that had not opened a shelter. Residents in need were urged to rely on family, friends and neighbors and to come to the town’s emergency operating center at Grace Cottage as a last resort.

Should the need have arisen, Dezendorf said, shelters could be established at Town Hall, Leland & Gray Union High School, or the Townshend Elementary School.

But none of those buildings has generators, he reported.

“We’re in the baby stages of preparedness,” he said “We’re working on getting a generator for one of those buildings.”

Cut off in Wardsboro

Tuesday morning in Wardsboro was grim.

“Currently one road is passable and that’s South Hill Road in the center of town,” explained Roger Reilly, a lieutenant in the Wardsboro Fire Department.

Route 100 in and out of town he said “were a mess.”

“We are using every available bulldozer, dump truck, and excavator,” he said.

Vehcile access is very limited, and electricity is just as limited.

“We may not have power for a month,” he added, explaining that there was no way for utility trucks to reach the necessary destinations.

National Guard personnel are assisting the fire department to determine what the needs are in West Wardsboro, such as whether there are sick or elderly residents who need immediate help.

“So far,” Reilly said, “everyone with those needs is going to family.”

Reilly wasn’t sure how many people were brought to the designated shelter during the storm. “I’d say we’re all kind of stranded,” he added.

Warner Manzke, assistant fire chief, said at 1 p.m. the town was waiting for word about the food drop. He also said he couldn’t take the time to talk to newspapers because he was understandably busy, so some of this Wardsboro information is incomplete.

Reilly thought 15 or 20 people had been brought to shelter but they all found places to go with family and friends.

He said the town lost several houses “which just floated down the river. There are several more just kind of hanging there.” He added that some camps were also lost.

Evacuations in Jamaica

Jamaica Emergency Managment Director Paul Fraser said the town is halting all non-resident traffic.

“You cannot get from Jamaica north,” he said. The roads are open to emergency vehicles only. Right now [Tuesday morning], rescuers are pulling people out onPikes Falls and West Jamaica roads, using ATVs. There are about 40 residents, but some are not coming.”

Those agreeing to evacuate are being brought to the Masonic Hall, now being used as a shelter, or going to friends and families, he explained.

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said. “It will be weeks before these roads open, and possibly months.”

He said four homes have gone into the West River and one street is wiped out.

No injuries have been reported, he said.

The Water (or Back) Street bridge is gone, he reported, and there is some power outage.

“CVPS is having a hard time,” said, “because there’s really no place to stick new poles.”

He called the current efforts “a fluid process. The citizens have been absolutely fantastic. We’ve had dozens of volunteers.”

Rock River devastation

At one point, 39 people were sheltered at the NewBrook Fire Station in Newfane, according to training officer Terry Glover.

“Mainly these were evacuations prior to flooding,” he said. “We had food available, and we received some support from the Red Cross.”

He said the hardest hit areas were along the Rock River and in South Newfane and Williamsville toward East Dover.

The recently restored covered bridge in Williamsville is passable, but the road beyond the bridge is not.

“The Parrish Hill Bridge to South Newfane is just open to emergency vehicles,” he explained. “The South Newfane side of the bridge dropped eight feet, but we dug it out to make it accessible.”

Meanwhile, the bridge at the intersection of Route 30 and Depot (or Williamsville) Road is closed because of structural damage. For a detour that’s good in both directions, use Grimes Hill Road as a connector to Depot Road and Route 30.

Three businesses on Route 30 in Newfane sustained significant damage from the Smith Brook behind WW Building Supplies, Newfane Greenhouse, and Nursery and Dutton’s Nursery and Farmstand.

“It was mud USA,” said Gary Castine, who works at WW Building Supply. “It was incredible. Four or five inches of mud. And lumber and plywood and insulation board are scattered everywhere. Some went down the river. But we’re open for business.”

Jay Wilson, owner of Newfane Greenhouse and Nursery, said he lost perennials and shrubs in the back of the yard. “It was a serious loss but we’ve still got stuff for next year.”

Likewise with Dutton, just next door. The water seemed to come up higher in the Dutton Nursery, forming some pretty deep pools in places. And there are signs of mud almost everywhere. But, again, the place remains opened for business.

Dennis Wiswall, chairman of the Newfane Selectboard, said he can’t envision things going back to what they once were.

“I mean the land is gone,” he pointed out. “The complicated regulations that will have to be looked at will take at least a couple of years to figure out.”

Newfane did not suffer any sustained power losses.

Damage in Grafton

All roads to Brookline are open, but some are just passable.

In Grafton, the outlook is also poor.

Fire Chief Eric Stevens said, “It’s just about total devastation of the roads. Basically, all the feeder roads are down. Styles Brook Road is closed. Hinckley Brook Road is a disaster. Middletown Road has some problems. The Houghtonville Road [Route 121] is almost completely washed out in places. The water made some new brook beds.”

Stevens said the Chester Road from Grafton was OK except for a half-mile stretch from Popple Dungeon Road to Quarry Road.

He said substantial damage has made the road from Fisher Hill to Cambridgeport a one-lane route.

“The town center is mostly powered up,” he observed. “We briefly opened a shelter in Grafton Elementary School.”

The Old Tavern at Grafton offered to put people up, so that’s where about half a dozen road reconstruction contractor are staying.

Stevens said the town had pre-positioned a number of pieces of its heavy equipment at the Grafton Firehouse, so those machines were immediately available.

Mac’s Place, the restaurant across the parking lot from the Grafton Tavern, has offered an open tab to emergency workers.

“My prognosis? There’s an awful lot of reconstruction,” Stevens said, “and we’ll be lucky if we get serviceable conditions by the time cold weather gets here.”

One house on Route 121 East simply collapsed into the river, and another structure also washed away.

But Steven himself was involved in a sort of movie adventure rescue effort, also on Route 121 East just south of the Rushton dairy operation.

Here’s how, in part, he describes it.

“There was a lady stranded on a car. She tried to drive through road flooding and her car spun around and into a tree with the trunk up. She got out and made it to the upended trunk and put her arms around the tree.”

About three hours later, she was rescued, but not before several people made heroic effort to reach her through the rapidly flowing Saxtons River.

“My oldest son came up from Cambridgeport, and he saw this woman screaming,” Steven continued. “He waded in up to his waist until he decided not to do it.”

At one point, Steven’s son had her by the hands but lost her when she got swept into the current.

“We called 911. We tried all kinds of mutual aid. So I decided to hike in through the back country. I picked up Art Coates [a Grafton resident] and we spent three-quarters of an hour going through the water, and we finally saw her in a tree.”

Finally, the water began to recede enough for a four-wheeler from the fire department got close enough for someone to throw her a rope.

David Ross, a volunteer firefighter, said the man throwing the rope had really practiced because it went right over her head and then down.

She wrapped it around herself, and they pulled her out of the water and took her to the tavern, where she showered and recovered, although she didn’t appear to be injured.

Ross wasn’t sure who the woman was except that she worked in town.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #116 (Wednesday, August 31, 2011).

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