WAITSFIELD, Vt. For some, there will be block parties and parades. For others, a moment of silence. Or it might be just another day of cleaning up the mess.
But if there’s one unifying event, it’ll probably be the sound of all Vermont’s church and town hall bells reverberating simultaneously through the same mountain valleys that Hurricane Irene’s floodwaters shredded exactly a year ago.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has called for the bell-ringing commemoration as Vermonters make plans to pause on Tuesday or the days around it to reflect on how far the state has come since the remnants of Irene unleashed the worst flooding in recent memory, killing six people, wiping out hundreds of homes and businesses, and cutting off whole towns with miles of wiped-out roads and dozens of destroyed bridges.
Landlocked Vermont suffered the worst damage along Irene’s trail of destruction, which left more than 65 people dead from the Caribbean to Canada. Cars tumbling like toys in roiling waters and covered bridges crumbling against muddy waves remain among the most indelible images of Irene.
“Yes we’ve still got work to do … but we’ve come a long way in a year, and we did want to celebrate that.”
“Vermonters have a lot to celebrate on the one-year anniversary of Irene,” Shumlin said as he announced a four-day tour, from Saturday through Tuesday, of towns hurt by the storm. “But we also need to recognize that many people and communities still need our help.”
That’s obvious at businesses like the White River Valley Campground in Stockbridge, where owners Rebecca and Drew Smith say they’re still overwhelmed by all the work needed to get the place back open.
“We need contractors, we need electricians, we need plumbers,” Rebecca Smith said. But the couple said they have no means to pay for all that’s needed. They’ve been out of business since the storm and have missed their mortgage payments the past two months.
It’s easy to see by walking around the campsites by the placid White River, and through the rustic recreation hall, why the campground drew some families to come back every year for decades.
But now the grounds are covered in silt, the root balls of upended birches and junk — some of it was the Smiths'; the rest was deposited on their property when the river turned to a raging torrent.
Janet Lumbra, a 37-year-old single mother from East Granville, said she’ll observe the anniversary by continuing to work on the project of fixing up her flood-gutted home. She and her 16-year-old son, Riley, lived in a camper across the road for months after the storm. But winter set in, and it got too expensive — $255 a week — to run the generator that powered the camper’s heater, so they moved in with Lumbra’s sister. They went back to the camper in the spring.
“I can’t cry anymore about this. Now you got to be a big girl and pull strings and try to get (things) done. That’s what I’ve been doing, contacting everybody and trying to get the ball rolling,” Lumbra said.
While some still struggle, others are celebrating the progress made to date – even in places where’s there much more to do.
In Newfane in southern Vermont, where the Rock River wrought extensive damage, residents held a celebratory parade and barbecue Sunday. The parade started at the “rubble pile” on the Dover Road, where a house had stood before Irene.
Gloria Cristelli, the Newfane town clerk, a town board member and president of the Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance, marched with a toy singing fish she had bought at a flea market that morning.
“Yes we’ve still got work to do … but we’ve come a long way in a year, and we did want to celebrate that,” she said.
Some observances will contain a somber element. Asah Rowles, board chairwoman of Mad River Flood Recovery, said people in her area are planning a moment of silence Tuesday evening after 30 seconds of town hall and church bells ringing around the state at 7 p.m., as called for by Shumlin.
Immediately following the bell-ringing, a focal point for the anniversary will be the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph, where music and storm videos will be among the attractions.
At Deerfield Academy just over the border in Deerfield, Mass., 7 p.m. Tuesday also is the start time for a concert of specially written Irene-themed songs, being put on as a fundraiser for the Connecticut River Watershed Council.
Waterbury will feature locally produced art about Irene and the recovery at a special exhibition beginning Saturday and running throughout September.
Observances continue into September, with a tour of Killington and other towns that suffered damage set for Sept. 3, and Waitsfield playing host to a block party Sept. 8.