Vermont Towns Work To Rebuild After Floods

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A house that was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene is seen in Rochester, Vt., Wednesday. (AP)
A house that was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene is seen in Rochester, Vt., Wednesday. (AP)

This report was compiled by Vermont Public Radio's John Dillon.

In Massachusetts, 30,000 homes and businesses remained without power Friday morning, days after Tropical Storm Irene. But Vermont is dealing with even bigger problems.

President Obama has declared several flood-stricken counties in Vermont major disaster areas due to widespread damage from the storm.

Crews are still working to rebuild roads and restore essential services after the storm. And many Vermont homeowners and businesses are worried about the months ahead, as most did not have flood insurance.

The resort town of Wilmington is both a disaster area and a work zone. Construction crews worked to rebuild roads and bridges washed out by the Deerfield River. Volunteers hustled to board up windows and remove mud-caked inventory from battered stores.

It's usually a tidy town that caters to the resort economy. Now, dirt and mud are everywhere. And, with the sewage system out, the street corners feature a new, but much-needed attraction: portable toilets.

“This is a whole new element to the scenic vista of Vermont," said Ann Manwaring, a state representative from the area. "We went and snitched them from the TransCanada recreation areas down at the lake.”

A house destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene sits on its side in Rochester, Vt. (AP)
A house destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene sits on its side in Rochester, Vt. (AP)

TransCanada is the utility that operates the nearby hydroelectric dam.

“Somebody called up Matt Cole who kind of runs TransCanada in the area and said, ‘Don’t be surprised. Your Porta Potties are going to be gone,' " Manwaring said.

Manwaring toured the downtown village district where almost every business has suffered major damage. She pointed to a pile of colorful woolen yarn that came from a nearby knitting shop ravaged by the flood.

“That was one of her display cases," Manwaring said. "And the folks who were gathering here just picked it all up and set it up in the display case and now I see it’s collapsed. It was a poignant story.”

One business owner in town has experienced disaster twice this year. In April, Lisa Sullivan lost her bookstore in Brattleboro when a fire swept through the building.

“And we now we lost Bartelby’s Books here," Sullivan said. "But the devastation here in Wilmington is so great; it’s hard to think just about our business because it’s really the whole town.”


Sullivan says the immediate priority is repairing roads and infrastructure so the tourists can come back.

Route 9, the main east-west route, was torn apart in several places between Bennington and Brattleboro. Business owners say it has to be completely rebuilt by ski season. But Sullivan is also worried about the long term.

"We’ll all be back. We’ll put this town back together."

Laura Sullivan, Wilmington business owner

"Probably the biggest concern that I have is that we have enough capital in this town for these businesses to rebuild," Sullivan said. "I’m not sure that we do. I don’t think that we do. We’re going to do what we can."

Few business owners had flood insurance. And the federal government has not yet decided if businesses will qualify for disaster assistance.

Wilmington’s plight is not just a local concern. Colby Dix is a select board member in Dover, home to the Mount Snow ski area. Dix says Wilmington is a big draw for skiers and tourists.

“I know so many people — second homeowners and residents and non-residents alike — that feel so confident and strong about this area, and would choose a house here over, say, a Stratton or Killington because of the village, because of Wilmington, because of these surrounding towns and the culture that is here," Dix said. "So for us to get back to normal, it’s a long haul.”

But the spirit to rebuild in Wilmington is strong. Back in the village, Susan Lawrence sat on the doorstep of her flooded restaurant.

“We’ll be back," Lawrence said. "We’ll all be back. We’ll put this town back together. It’s a great community and they stick together.”


This program aired on September 2, 2011.


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