Flooding in Vermont Closes Roads and Threatens Towns


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Torrential rainfall and widespread flooding wreaked havoc in the river valleys and mountain towns of Vermont and New York State on Monday, ravaging communities and drawing comparisons to the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene more than a decade ago.

The storm caused a night of chaos in New York on Sunday, particularly in the Hudson Valley, where up to eight inches of rain fell in some areas and one person died. But its center had shifted to Vermont by Monday, putting the landlocked and mountainous state — and particularly a number of tiny, isolated towns along rivers and creeks, just as when Irene struck — in the cross hairs for major flooding.

Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont said he feared that the sheer volume of water dumped on his state by this week’s storm system could surpass the amount that fell during Irene, which killed six people in Vermont, because the region will be pummeled by rain for several days.

“What’s different for me is that Irene lasted about 24 hours,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “We’re getting just as much rain, if not more, and it’s going on for days. That’s my concern. It’s not just the initial damage.”

Those concerns were shared across Vermont, from the state capital, Montpelier, where the Winooski River was expected to crest on Tuesday at its second-highest level ever, to the villages of southern and central Vermont, where rivers churned angrily on Monday.

“It’s just a huge magnitude of water,” Alex Beloin, who works for the wastewater department in Woodstock, Vt., said as he stood on a historic covered bridge spanning the Ottauquechee River there. “Anything that did wash out during Irene is very likely going to wash out again.”

Officials in Vermont said about 20 people so far had been rescued by boat, while many more evacuated their homes.

David Green, the fire chief in Woodstock, said his department had asked residents of a trailer park in a flood-prone part of town to evacuate, and few hesitated.

“Irene is still pretty fresh in everybody’s mind,” he said. “So most people heeded the warning without being told twice.”

Chief Green said Irene had been “a lasting trauma” for Vermonters. “People are very leery of their rivers and keep a careful eye,” he added. “So far, nobody has been trapped anywhere they shouldn’t be.”

Others, like Erin Clements, a flower farmer who lives on a hilltop in South Londonderry, were staying put and said they felt safe, even as they watched floodwaters rise nearby.

“They have opened the church and town hall for people that are being rescued from their homes,” said Ms. Clements, who added that her fields had flooded with seven inches of water on Monday.

Over the past two weeks, many parts of central and northern New England have received 200 to 300 percent of their normal rainfall for the same period, according to forecasters with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

By Monday afternoon, the storm had dumped more than six inches of rain on some parts of Vermont, surpassing what they might normally see for the entire month of July, according to the National Weather Service. And more rain was expected to fall.

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, who toured flood damage on Monday in Highland Falls, a village next to West Point on the Hudson River, said the region was “in the midst of an extraordinary, extraordinary weather event.”

Damaged roads and bridges made it difficult to assess the scale of the damage, she said. But officials estimated it would likely run into the tens of millions of dollars.

“My friends, this is the new normal,” the governor said, referring to the impacts of climate change on flooding. People must “be prepared for the worst,” she said, “because the worst continues to happen.”

Later in the day, the governor said at a news conference in the Finger Lakes that more than a dozen people and five pets had been rescued in that region and power was being restored to the more than 13,000 homes statewide that had been without it.

“Sadly, because of mankind’s assault on Mother Nature that’s been going on for generations, it feels like it’s payback time,” she said. “Mother Nature is taking revenge on all of us.”

The person killed in New York was a 35-year-old woman who was evacuating her home and carrying a dog when she lost her footing and was swept into a ravine, said Steven M. Neuhaus, the county executive in Orange County, N.Y. Her name was not released on Monday.

The storm severed transportation links between New York City and the upstate region. Metro-North Railroad tracks were blocked by fallen trees, boulders, mud and water. Roads, including the Palisades Interstate Parkway, were rendered impassable, and several bridges were damaged.

In Highland Falls, a brook burst its banks on Sunday as tree limbs clogged culverts, sending water and mud pouring down Main Street. On Monday, Peter Deverin, a 20-year-old R.O.T.C. cadet, was helping to scoop mud and mangled branches off Main Street with a friend, John Venino, also 20.

The two were caught in the teeth of the storm during a drive on Sunday — the rain “just kept getting harder and harder and harder,” Mr. Deverin said — and seemed grateful to have survived.

“Boulders were flying off the side of the mountain, cars were being swept across the street,” Mr. Deverin said. “It looked like something out of a horror movie.”

With most of Vermont’s flooded waterways still to crest, and close to three dozen states roads closed because of high water, Mike Cannon, an official with Vermont Urban Search and Rescue, said the state was in a better position to rescue people from flooded areas today than it was in Tropical Storm Irene. It now has 12 swift-water rescue teams compared with four back then. Two more were on hand on Monday from North Carolina, and a larger search-and-rescue team from Massachusetts was on standby.

Late on Monday afternoon, the Colonial Motel and Inn in Weston was almost at capacity with evacuees, said Natalie Boston, an administrative assistant for the town.

And in South Londonderry, three people were sheltering from the storm at First Baptist Church: Judy Cobb, a church member and volunteer with the local rescue squad; a 99-year-old woman who evacuated her house earlier in the day, and a young man who had spent the day sleeping on the church’s couch.

Ms. Cobb had come to help those in need, and now, like them, she was trapped in South Londonderry after the bridges in the area had been closed and she had no way of getting home.

“You just make the best of everything,” she said.

Reporting was contributed by Claire Moses, Anna Betts, Erin Nolan, Judson Jones and Christine Hauser


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