MONTPELIER, Vt. − Vermont residents across the state are toiling Wednesday amid a monumental cleanup after historic rains fueled devastating floods that washed away roads, trails, crops and homes, littering streets and businesses with debris.
Urban search and swift water rescue teams have performed more than 200 rescues and 100-plus evacuations since Sunday, state Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison said, and new flash flood warnings have been issued because more rain is in the forecast.
“Vermonters, keep your guard up and do not take chances,” Morrison said.
The disaster brought out the civic spirit in Montpelier, where so many of the capital city’s 8,000 residents offered to help shoveling mud, cleaning and moving damaged items outside that volunteer organizer Peter Walke said some had to be turned away.
Gov. Phil Scott toured the affected areas with Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose teams began aerial and on-the-ground damage assessments a day after President Joe Biden declared an emergency and authorized federal disaster relief.
“The damage in Vermont is devastating, and our people will need support,” Scott tweeted, expressing gratitude for FEMA’s presence.
Small victories were emerging Wednesday after two days of storms dumped up to 9 inches of rain in some areas. The Winooski and North Branch rivers, where flooding had water rushing through streets of Montpelier like tributaries, were receding below flood stage, and city officials said water at the Wrightsville Dam was not expected to breach the spillway.
Tuesday, City Manager William Fraser warned that the spillway threatened to release water into the North Branch River. “This has never happened since the dam was built, so there is no precedent for potential damage,” Fraser said.
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∎Fraser said the city was shifting to a recovery mode as public works employees removed mud and debris from downtown streets, where floodwaters had reached the tops of parking meters.
∎The Winooski River through Montpelier had dropped from its high of more than 21 feet early Tuesday to about 11½ feet by noon Wednesday, still well above its normal level of about 7 feet, according to sensors.
∎ Montpelier was among a dozen Vermont towns and communities under a boil-water alert because of the floods.
∎Scott said floodwaters surpassed levels seen during Tropical Storm Irene 12 years ago. Irene killed at least six people, washed homes off foundations and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of highway. No injuries or deaths related to this year’s flooding have been reported in Vermont.
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A break in the pattern of storms that dumped two months’ volume of rain on Vermont in two days will be a short one, forecasters warn. An “atmospheric traffic jam” will pound the Northeast with rounds of rain and locally severe thunderstorms late this week to early next week, AccuWeather said. At least three rounds of downpours and thunderstorms were expected to progress slowly from the central Appalachians to the mid-Atlantic coast and New England, AccuWeather said. The first is expected Thursday to Friday, followed by a second Saturday to Sunday. Another round could come Monday and Tuesday.
In Montpelier, rain is in the forecast for each of the next seven days. Although the rains are not forecast to be as heavy, the ground is soaked and many low-lying areas remain filled with water, which raises the risk of more flooding.
“Disturbances from the Midwest will tend to slow down and pivot northward rather than progress quickly out to sea upon reaching the Atlantic coast,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek said. “This action will cause much more rain to be unloaded on some areas as opposed to a storm system that continues to move right along.”
The sun was out Tuesday and more sunshine was expected Wednesday. But in Ludlow, a village of fewer than 2,000 people 100 miles south of Montpelier, the primary supermarket remained closed and the water treatment plant was damaged. The baseball and skate parks were destroyed and scores of businesses damaged.
Ludlow Municipal Manager Brendan McNamara said he talked with residents who lost their homes.
“We sustained catastrophic damage. We just really took the brunt of the storm,” he said, but, “Ludlow will be fine. People are coming together and taking care of each other. We’ve been here before, and we will get through it.”
Jesse Gilsinger, who rode out the flooding in his third-floor apartment, used a snow shovel and a brush to push water from the building’s lobby on State Street.
Gilsinger, 52, a custodian at the nearby State Capitol, said he was eager to get the cleanup started. He said the water was knee-high in the lobby during the worst of the flooding but dropped dramatically by Tuesday evening.
“Now I guess I’m going to help lead the charge in getting this stuff cleaned up,” he said.
Tuesday afternoon, Anthony Spine, 37, kayaked around the flooded downtown as the waters receded.
“To have seen it with waist-deep water is so crazy,” he said. “I feel bad for all these folks with homes and businesses. It’s brutal.”
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press