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Shumlin releases final Irene recovery report during Wilmington event

Watch next week’s edition of The Commons for full coverage on the report and Shumlin’s Aug. 28 press conference in Wilmington.

BRATTLEBORO—Tropical Storm Irene tore through Vermont two years ago.

Aug. 28, 2011 will be remembered not only as a day of destruction and devastation, but also of community resilience.

Still, the recovery process continues.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin released the state’s Irene Recovery Status Report during a press conference in Wilmington on Wednesday commemorating the anniversary.

The report quantifies the state’s recovery from the devastation and serves as the fourth and final written testimony from the Irene Recovery Office.

It was written by Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation chief for the Vermont Department of Emergency Management & Homeland Security, and Katherine Ash, interagency liaison for the state Irene Recovery Office.

In the report, illustrated by photos of a devastated landscape from that day, Shumlin recalls the view from the Vermont National Guard helicopter the day after the storm dumped its rains on the state, wreaking the worst disaster since the Great Flood of 1927.

“Then-Adjutant General Michael Dubie and I looked down on more than 500 miles of state roads destroyed, 200 bridges damaged or ripped off foundations, more than 60,000 homes and businesses without power, 1,000 homes destroyed. Families were grieving lost property and, in some cases, lost loved ones,” recalls Shumlin in the report. “Entire towns were cut off from the rest of state.”

But the storm failed to “bring Vermont to its knees,” he said.

Instead, the state took the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild, this time “stronger, more resilient, and less vulnerable to the wild weather that climate change has wreaked upon our world.”

By the time the weather system that started out as Hurricane Irene entered Vermont, it had weakened into a tropical storm. According to the status report, winds gusted to almost 60 miles per hour and dumped “record-setting” rainfalls of 4 to 11 inches.

The report highlights what Vermont has learned from Irene: rivers need their space, the state must inventory and better understand its vulnerabilities, and out of crisis comes opportunity.

Also, the report detailed the millions in federal and state monies that rebuilt roads, homes, and municipal infrastructure.

In the win column for 2013, the state broke ground on a new state employees’ complex in Waterbury and a new psychiatric facility in Berlin to help replace the Vermont State Hospital.

“There will certainly be future disasters,” the report stated. “Even as this report goes to print, two new federal disasters have been declared in Vermont since May 2013.”

“Perhaps Irene has helped prepare us for ‘the new normal,’” said the report. “Vermont stands strong and ready, confident in our collective ability to weather the storm and recover from whatever comes next.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #218 (Wednesday, August 28, 2013).

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